Archive for Saturday, January 11, 2003

KU completes foreign student data gathering

University meets INS mandate, but agency’s computer system may delay information transfer

January 11, 2003


Kansas University is poised to meet its obligation in the war on terrorism. Trouble is, the federal government isn't ready to do its part.

School officials said Friday the university was ready to submit data on each foreign student enrolled at KU, in time to meet a Jan. 30 federal homeland security deadline. But it's not clear whether the federal government will have a computer system ready to receive the information.

"We're just about good to go and feeling good about it," said Joe Potts, director of international student and scholar services. "But we're not able yet to test it with the federal system. They'd better be getting close to getting it done."

The Immigration and Naturalization Service set the Jan. 30 deadline for universities to have the new tracking system -- Student and Exchange Visa Information Service -- in place.

First-time students to the United States will be entered into the database beginning Jan. 30. Students who already are in the United States must be entered by Aug. 1.

The system includes information in 19 broad categories, including academic, personal and financial information about the students and their dependents, any disciplinary action, off-campus employment, and whether they have dropped below a full course of study.

Universities across the country have been scrambling to meet the deadline, which many university officials said was too soon.

The INS has had a mandate to create a computerized system since 1996. But the long-delayed overhaul took on new urgency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Some of the terrorists involved in that day's hijackings had entered the United States on student visas.

The INS has completed one section of SEVIS, which uses a Web interface to allow universities to enter information one student at a time. Universities that enroll few international students -- including Baker University -- plan to use that method.

The section KU will use -- and the section not completed -- will download information directly from university databases, saving time and money. Potts said INS officials had indicated they would have the system complete in the next week.

"INS has created very high expectations they'll be ready by Jan. 30," he said. "I think they're working extremely hard to meet that deadline."

The computer equipment involved to interface with SEVIS cost KU $30,000, Potts said. KU also has hired one full-time and one part-time staff member for managing the system.

KU administrators earmarked $80,000 of new tuition money for the project this fall.

Potts called the system an "unfunded federal mandate."

"I have reservations about how much this is going to do to increase security," he said. "There will be some advantages and improvements that result from this in terms of better management of records we already have."

Potts said some students may view the database as an invasion of privacy and may choose to study in other countries.

INS spokesman Christopher Bentley defended SEVIS, saying it would be more efficient and accurate than former methods.

"Students just need to stay in compliance with their immigration status, make sure that they're taking the courses they're supposed to and stay out of trouble," he said. "The system is not tracking library fines. It's tracking foreign students staying in the U.S."

"Will SEVIS be able to stop the next 9-11? No," he added. "But it's part of a clear approach to helping national security in the United States."

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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