September 30, 2002
Purdue first in nation to test INS student tracking system
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue is the first university in the nation to successfully test a method for transmitting data on large numbers of international students for a new federally mandated tracking system.
All universities in the United States that enroll international students are required to begin using the Student Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, by Jan. 30. Universities will use the system to send student information to the government, and the data will then be used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to track international students.
SEVIS will provide two methods for universities to send the international student data. One method sends records for one student at a time over the Internet. Another method, called a "batch" option, sends information on 250 students at a time using a package of sophisticated software.
Because Purdue has more international students than any other public university in the nation, information technology specialists at the university have no choice but to use a "batch " method to send data on students, said Michael Ivy, director of the Office of International Programs Information Technology.
Purdue currently has 5,015 international students 2,101 undergraduates and 2,914 graduate and professional students, which includes pharmacy, nursing and veterinary medicine students.
The university last Thursday (9/26) successfully tested a batch method for SEVIS, making Purdue the first in the nation to accomplish the task.
"We have taken the first step and now we need to continue developing our systems so that we can begin complete compliance," Ivy said.
He said the university may be ready to begin entering student data into the system by mid-November.
"I am confident that we will swiftly progress into SEVIS compliance," Ivy said. "This effort is important for our students from abroad, for our institution as a whole and for our national security. It is imperative that we comply in a timely fashion."
SEVIS was not implemented in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but the attacks increased the importance of having such a system in place.
"It has been a work in progress for many years," said Michael Brzezinski, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars at Purdue.
Researchers were already planning to replace the old system with a more efficient method of tracking student records when 9/11 happened.
"Its main purpose is to replace the old paper-based system of tracking the international student immigration documentation and for schools to report data basically in real time," Ivy said. "There are elements in the system where, if a student is desiring to transfer from another university to Purdue, we will be electronically notified that the student is coming our way and we can then report if the student enrolls in classes in a timely fashion."
SEVIS will be used at consulates, embassies and U.S. ports of entry. Prospective Purdue international students who are requesting visas will be given a special bar-coded form from the university. When entering the United States, international students will present this completed form. The bar-coded document will be scanned, indicating that students have used the Purdue form to enter the country.
"We will know where students received their visas," Ivy said. "We will know when they entered the country and where they entered the country. Then it's the university's responsibility within 30 days of the beginning of the semester to report whether that student showed up and registered for classes."
The 30-day time frame puts pressure on large universities such as Purdue, which have numerous international students, many arriving all at once. It is difficult to process information for so many students so quickly, Ivy said.
Toward that goal, Purdue's Office of International Students and Scholars recently used a new system developed for SEVIS that allows new students to electronically submit their data to the office, Brzezinski said. In the past, students completed paper forms and the office then manually entered the information into a database.
"We developed a system for the students to sit down in a wireless laptop lab and give us all the data electronically," Ivy said. "This is in preparation for the 30-day turnaround."
To develop the system, Ivy worked with a team of information technology specialists at Purdue, including Christine Collins, data coordinator for international programs, and Carleigh Vollbrecht, a Web systems developer for international programs.
The Purdue team worked closely with INS, Electronic Data Systems, a private company that is developing the SEVIS system for the INS, and Newfront Software Inc., a private company based in Cambridge, Mass. Purdue has chosen Newfront's software product, fsaATLAS, which enables the university to use the batch method for SEVIS. Because of Purdue's expertise in this area, the university is a member of Newfront's advisory council and will be their "test site" for batch transfer.
"SEVIS affects nearly every office and department in our university system and 13 percent of our total student body, " Brzezinski said. "If the university is to be successful in meeting the SEVIS mandate, this endeavor must be a team effort. It has, in fact, been a very collaborative effort."
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