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Archive for Sunday, May 19, 2002

KU: Feds should help finance foreign student tracking

May 19, 2002

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Kansas University officials say the federal government should help pick up the tab for a new computer system to track international students.

"This is a national security issue," said Diana Carlin, dean of international and graduate programs. "It should not be a burden on the universities. This is another unfunded mandate."

The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) will provide a computer connection between the Immigration and Naturalization Service and 74,000 educational institutions eligible to be host to international students.

The system will increase the information university officials are required to report to the INS. Additions include notifying the INS when students change residences, switch their major or drop out of school.

The INS also will notify a university almost immediately when a student intending to enroll in the institution enters the country. Now, notification can take months.

The changes are in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Three of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks were in the United States on student visas. One entered on a student visa but failed to show up at the campus where he was supposed to study.

While the SEVIS software will be provided to universities for free, other KU software programs likely will need to be upgraded to interface with the SEVIS program. For instance, the university enrollment software would need to be updated to automatically inform officials if an international student drops out of school.

And, Carlin said, one full-time and one part-time staff member will need to be hired to administer the tracking system and perform periodic checks to see if KU's 1,800 international students have moved or changed their status. The staff members alone will cost more than $40,000 per year, she said.

Carlin said the University of Wisconsin recently estimated SEVIS implementation to cost $100,000 per year.

"I'm not denying we need to do something," she said. "I just want Washington to understand the impact."

Joe Potts, director of the Office of International Student Services, said another problem was the timeline for enacting the system. The INS expects the software to be available in July, with mandatory implementation by Jan. 30, 2003.

"A lot of people are saying it's too soon," he said, adding that universities are typically given a year to adapt to changes in federal financial aid software.

Potts said he also worried that the $95 proposed fee charged to international students to help pay for the system would discourage some students from attending. Students in some countries can't pay by credit card, he said.

"The burdensome process of the fee may cause students to look at other countries," he said. "The U.S. has traditionally been the destination of choice, especially for graduate students."

And the increased tracking itself could be a turnoff for some, Potts said, as students look to study abroad.

"The way we're perceived overseas could change the way students feel about coming here," he said. "This could promote anti-American sentiment."

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