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New UO president eyes graduation rate

PORTLAND — Helping students graduate on time is among the best ways to keep rising college costs in check and minimize the debt burden for students, University of Oregon President Michael Schill said Wednesday.

Three months into his presidency, Schill said he'll seek to improve the Eugene university's graduation rate by 10 percentage points in the next five years.

Only half of UO students currently graduate in four years, he said, and only 69 percent earn a degree within six years of enrolling.

"This is the issue of our time with regard to higher education — timely graduation," Schill said in an interview with The Associated Press in Portland.

He spoke a day after outlining his plans to improve graduation in his first major campus address.

Students have protested tuition increases that amount to several hundred dollars, he said, but the cost pales in comparison to the thousands of dollars it would cost to take an additional year of classes.

The university is spending $17 million on its efforts. The money comes from an increase in higher education funding that state lawmakers approved earlier this year.

Schill said he'll hire an associate vice provost for student success, a position he's termed a "retention czar," along with more student advisers. The university also will grant more money in scholarships to students in danger of dropping out because of financial hardships and to hiring more faculty to help ensure students can get into the classes they need to graduate.

The university also will roll out analytical software that's supposed to identify students at risk of dropping out based on the experiences of previous students.

"I want everybody at the university to look at this as their responsibility and as one of the very top priorities," Schill said.

Schill took over as president on July 1, becoming the university's fifth leader in five years. He said he aims to bring stability that's been missing.

University of Oregon President Michael Schill talks Wednesday during an interview in Portland. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS.