One of the better pieces of news last year for prospective college students and their parents came out of the University at Buffalo.

When UB kicked off its “Finish in 4” program this fall, it became the latest in a growing number of schools around the nation – including Fredonia State and Medaille colleges – to offer incoming freshman a guarantee to graduate in four years.

“We’re really proud of this,” said A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs at UB. “It’s a real commitment by the university.”

While pledging a four-year degree in four years may not seem like much of a promise, it’s an issue that’s hitting home.

In recent years, more U.S. college students have been taking five or six years to graduate – adding to their student debt load at a time of soaring tuition.

Consider: Only 38 percent of freshman at public institutions in 2004 earned a bachelor’s degree four years later, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. About 58 percent graduated within six years.

The numbers are a little better at UB, where Weber said roughly 47 percent graduate in four years, but “Finish in 4” is expected to push up those four-year graduation rates even more.

Consider: Some 1,400 UB freshman signed up for the university’s “Finish in 4” program this fall during its inaugural year.

That’s more than 40 percent of the entire freshman class of 3,400.

Here’s how it works:

While they’re not required to participate in the program, first-time, full-time freshman at UB can sign a pledge to do their part to graduate in four years, including keeping up their grades, routinely meeting with their adviser and making school a priority over their work schedule.

In turn, the university ensures students get the access to the advisement and required courses needed to graduate in four years.

If students fulfill their obligations, but still don’t graduate on time, they’ll be able to complete the required courses for graduation free of charge.

Tuition and fees during the 2012-13 school year is $7,989 for in-state residents and $16,190 for out-of-state residents.

“We really poured a lot of university resources into providing a much clearer path to graduation, more course availability and better advising,” Weber said.

In fact, UB – thanks in large part to the additional funding from tuition increases – added some 300 more course sections this fall to meet demand and do a better job of keeping all students on track to graduate in timely fashion, Weber said.

That’s a good start to 2013 at UB, where 3,418 freshman were enrolled this fall.

That’s an increase of 11 percent from the freshmen class of 3,069 that arrived in the fall of 2011.

This year’s freshman class also has an average SAT score of 1,155 – the same as last year – and a high school average of 91.6 – which is nearly identical to last year’s, as well.

“It’s a significantly larger class that came in this year,” Weber said. “We feel like we continue to be a very, very attractive option for students locally, across New York state and internationally.”