Big Brother Goes to College 

The war on terror as a campus software project.

What is the nation's first line of defense against terrorism? The FBI? Okay, who else you got? The CIA? Yeah, them too. But who are the big guns in the fight against international infiltration? That would be the nation's mid-level college administrators.

As part of the Patriot Act, Congress has ordered school administrators to help root out terrorists who enter the country on a student visa. Starting in January 2003, educators will be required to report foreign students' activities to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Surprising? Not really. For decades, higher-education institutions and the INS have traded responsibility for keeping tabs on exchange students. Now the ball has formally been passed back to the schools, and the war on terrorism is just another Bay Area software product.

The Pleasanton software merchant PeopleSoft hopes to increase its bottom line with a student tracking program called PASS that will help colleges comply with the new regulations. The software program eyeballs students' data and reports to administrators sudden alterations, like a courseload dipping below the level needed to maintain a full-time student visa. The administrators, by law, have to upload the information to the INS on a regular basis. PeopleSoft is distributing PASS as a free upgrade to the 450 schools that already use its other applications, such as Campus Portal, which helps schools manage student registration. For PeopleSoft, the money is in future clients that will need to purchase the basic software in order to get PASS. The price varies according to the size of the client organization.

With the new INS regulation, there are plenty of potential sales out there. Last year, according to the Institute of International Education, an estimated 547,000 foreign exchange students were in the United States out of roughly fourteen million higher education students. And every one of the host schools, including vocational institutions like beauty academies, needs to track foreign students' course credits. Getting PASS in these schools could be a shot in the arm for a company whose stock price declined 52 percent over the last year.

"We have seven of the Big Ten universities, and prestigious universities, like Duke, that have very large international student programs," says Karen Willett, PeopleSoft's director of marketing, of the new INS requirement. "When you talk about volume, this is really going to affect them."

While purchasing PASS won't be a problem for such big-name universities, smaller vocational outfits, like the flight schools that taught the 9/11 terrorists, may not have the financial or organizational wherewithal to implement the program. These schools will be left to track and report foreign students' credits on their own. If they fail to report correctly, they run the risk of losing their certification to host exchange students, which could have real financial consequences, according to Dyann Del Vecchio, an immigration lawyer who specializes in student visa issues at the firm Seyfarth Shaw. "The real difficulty will be felt by the smaller schools, or less organized schools, who don't have an organized program for foreign students," she says. "They're going to have to get their house in order overnight."


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