ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — Northern Illinois University and Rock Valley College are celebrating the first graduates of its partnership program.

The first three students of the Engineering Our Future program graduated over the weekend, the Rockford Register Star reported .

The program launched in February 2016 and lets students obtain bachelor's degrees in engineering at the Rock Valley College campus. The partnership works out of the campus' newly remodeled Woodward Technology Center.

Bradley Robison was one of the program's first graduates. He'll soon begin a full-time engineer position at Woodward, an aerospace control systems company.

"It was important to me to be able to work and go to school at the same time," he said. "Being able to be here meant not having to pay room and board."

Officials expect graduation numbers to increase to around 10 next year. About 150 students are enrolled in the program at the associate's level, while the undergraduate level has 45 students.

More than 40 students are working in paid internships in the area while they work on their degrees.

"The students can earn more, which helps them, but the employers like it, too," said Kelly Cooper, Rock Valley's executive director of Engineering Our Future. "A three-month internship is so short. You train someone and they go back to school. Here, these businesses can train a student and see that value coming back to them for years."

Students can spend less than $40,000 while enrolled in the four-year program and secure a job paying $60,000 or more. The partnership has raised more than $7.5 million for capital support, instructional support and student scholarships.

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com