Student-Tracking System Bogs Down

Lethargic response times forced the INS to postpone a deadline for schools to report on foreign students.
Swamped computers have given U.S. college and university administrators a two-week reprieve in reporting on newly enrolling foreign students. Last Thursday, the Immigration and Naturalization Service moved the deadline to begin collecting data from Jan. 30 to Feb. 15. The regulation, a Homeland Security initiative, is designed to gather academic and personal data, track the status of foreign students, and issue student-visa eligibility documents.

Several schools last week logged on to the INS's Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (Sevis) to register for access or enter data, only to run into lethargic response times. It took five minutes to log on to the system using a broadband connection for James Anastasio, the City University of New York's director of administrative computing.

"The INS system is not ready for prime time," he says.

Even the INS, which developed the system with EDS, has had difficulty accessing it to review data and issue student documents, says Stella Jarina, the INS's director of student operations. So, the INS "quadrupled the processing power" by adding more servers, Jarina says. She says she doesn't know how many servers were added, only that they were powered up Wednesday night. Response times are being monitored.

The system slowdown made entering student records nearly impossible. After 30 minutes of inactivity, Sevis ends the session. "It's a race against the clock," says Stephen Goldberg, director of the international student service center at Baruch College in New York. Schools can opt to automatically upload batches of records, but that can be expensive.

With more than 5,000 foreign students, Purdue University has spent $500,000 in preparation of Sevis, which included $150,000 for hardware and software, says Michael Ivy, director of IT for the office of international programs. The school bought Sevis-compatible software from Newfront Software Inc. and replaced outmoded PCs with new Dell Computer machines better capable of handling its batch processing.

Some schools short on cash are writing their own software to meet INS requirements. "We wrote a batch interface to keep our student data system in synch with Sevis," Anastasio says. He says his department won't buy commercial software for the task because it would be incompatible with the university system's 20-year-old IT infrastructure.