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Higher ed. groups question Bush's foreign-student plan feasibility. (around the nation).

WASHINGTON -- The Bush Administration s fast-track plan to keep tabs on foreign students will cost colleges too much money in a vain attempt to make them meet an impossible deadline, according to a group of more than 30 higher-education organizations.

Sharing their concerns with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in a co-signed letter sent by the American Council on Education in mid-June, the groups were responding to rules proposed in the Federal Register on May 16.

The INS has asked all institutions that accept foreign students to have the electronic tracking system, also known as SEVIS, in place by Jan. 30, 2003. But the higher-education groups say it's unreasonable to set such a tight deadline for a system that doesn't yet exist. instead, the groups have suggested that no specific date be set until the system is fully functioning. Schools should then be given six months to get the system up and running on their campuses, says the letter.

The letter also asks the immigration agency to consider the financial burden imposed on schools by the system before it sets a definite deadline.

"Our chief concern is that institutions avoid implementing SEVIS twice. This requires that a fully operational system be in place before institutions design their interfaces, or purchase and install software from vendors." the letter says. "If SEVIS implementation is hastened without adequate insurance that INS has a fully functioning system in place, the costs to institutions will increase substantially."

According to the letter, buying and maintaining software for the new system will cost each institution about $15,000 to $25,000, depending on the size of its international student population. For institutions with larger populations of foreign students, such as Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, initial costs are estimated at $500,000, the letter says.

Darryl-Keith Ogata, assistant dean of international education at Santa Monica Community College in California, said the cost of the system would further sap his college's nearly dry coffers.

Cost "is a big concern because we have had budget cuts in California, and ... he (Gov. Gray Davis) is talking about more cuts," he said.

Ogata said the college, which has a foreign-student enrollment of about 3,000, is working on getting a price estimate from the technology group that will help install SEVIS.

The Office of the Inspector General, an independent arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, has also expressed concerns about the costs and timing of SEVIS. In a report released in May, the office said it's unlikely the INS itself could meet the January deadline. Because the task of implementing the system is a colossal one, according to the report, the INS needs to dedicate more time and resources to it.

Terry Hartle, vice president for government relations and public affairs at ACE, said neither the INS nor anyone in higher education has ever seen the likes of SEVIS.

"SEVIS is enormously complicated. It is a technological moonshot," Hartle said. "This is one of those cases where, even if you have enough money--which the INS has--to implement SEVIS, it just takes time to develop a large information technology system. They are civil servants; they are not magicians."

Also of concern to the higher education community is the training required for staff who will be responsible for the system at individual institutions.

Ogata said Santa Monica staff members who attended a recent training seminar remained confused about SEVIS's requirements and capabilities.

"The feedback I got from the staff is that there is not a consensus in terms of ... what is being done and what needs to be done," Ogata said. "You get different interpretations depending on who you talk to and what conference session you go to."

Hartle said ACE has repeatedly asked the INS for permission to host fall workshops at which immigration officials would answer questions.

"But they won't schedule them. Every time we call they say, `We will get back to you on that,'" he said.

Still, the INS remains optimistic that the system can be in place by the set deadline.

"The INS is using the latest cutting-edge technology to use real-time communication ... we are confident that the system will let us have a much better flow of information about foreign students in the United States," said INS spokesman Chris Bentley.

Bentley said regulations for SEVIS are currently under review, and that no date has been set for
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Title Annotation:George W. Bush
Author:Lane, Kristina
Publication:Community College Week
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 8, 2002
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