November 13, 2002
Purdue first again to test international student data system
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Purdue continues to lead the nation's universities in testing the Immigration and Naturalization Service's new international student tracking system.
After being the first university in the nation last month to successfully test a method for transmitting large amounts of data on international students for a new federally mandated tracking system, Purdue completed testing student data changes, known as events, in early November and continues to test other applications.
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.
"We tested multiple data updates to ensure the files were sent, validated and processed," said Michael Ivy, director of the Office of International Programs Information Technology.
"Student data updates are required to be sent to the tracking system when specific events, such as changing an academic major, receiving financial aid, or reducing and adding to a course load, happen during a international student's academic career."
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, Ivy said.
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.
"We are heartened by this success, because schools across the U.S. are getting very worried about not meeting the compliance deadline," said Sanjeev Kale, president and CEO of Newfront Software. "Many believed that software companies would not have enough time to reprogram their existing applications by the deadline. For large international enrollment sites like Purdue, the real-time interface would be cumbersome due to the sheer volume of data entry. Schools with greater than 50 to 100, not to mention Purdue's 5,000-plus students, are seeking to use the SEVIS batch process instead."
The university successfully tested a batch method for SEVIS on Sept. 26, making Purdue the first in the nation to accomplish the task.
"We have taken another first step into SEVIS compliance," Ivy said. "These achievements will help Purdue handle its large amount of international students and help ensure our national security."
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.
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 universities such as Purdue, which have large numbers of international students, many arriving all at once. It is difficult to process information for so many students so quickly, Ivy said.
To streamline the flow of information, 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. In the past, students completed paper forms and the office then manually entered the information into a database.
"We basically re-engineered our business practices and procedures; our information technology area was very innovative with the solution they provided for us," said Michael Brzezinski, director of the office. "The information technology staff developed a system for the students to sit down in a wireless laptop lab and provide us all the data electronically. This is in preparation for the 30-day turnaround."
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 continue to be its test site for batch transfer.
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Thikshan Arulampalam, Newfront Software, (617) 864-3500
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