International students unhappy with new fee

As an international student, Kurt Musselmann has always expected to pay more for tuition than in-state students. But after his three-year attendance at USF, Musselmann was hit with an unexpected fee this semester.

He is one of 2,200 USF international students at USF who must pay a $50 fee to help with the operation costs of an international student tracking system.

“I was slapped with the fee Friday afternoon and, suddenly, found out it was $50 higher,” Musselmann said.

Because of recent budget cuts money wasn’t available for the Internet-based system, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, which will require a $250,000 annual budget, said David Austell, director of International Student and Scholar Services at USF.

Austell said he had no other choice but to ask international students to help pay operating costs. The students will be charged a $50 fee each time they register for classes.

“I put the proposal forward and I take full responsibility for this,” said Austell at an information session Wednesday. “I had nothing at all that I could lean on (with the current budget).”

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. government made it a requirement that universities electronically record status information of its international students by providing INS with the student’s name, country of citizenship, major and enrollment status, as full time or part time.

The system was implemented at USF last year, but because full national compliance was required by Aug. 1, Austell said he needed to purchase more equipment and hire more staff.

Those costs included: $35,000 for software, hardware and computers for the system’s start-up costs, $10,000 in service fees and a $25,000 annual salary with $10,000 set aside for benefits that are to be paid both program assistants hired to compile data.

“We had to hire more staff to ensure the work is done properly,” Austell said. “If it’s not done properly, the INS has taken a zero tolerance for errors. If anyone on my staff makes an error, there is no tolerance for that. So the staff itself has had to change.”

Students, who are not U.S. citizens, risk being deported if they do not provide data to universities.

In 2002, the government allocated $35 million for the implementation of SEVIS at universities, but because of continuous updates that need to be made to student data, that money wasn’t enough.

“That $35 million is pocket change. All it does is implement SEVIS,” Austell said. “The program was always designed so that universities would compile the data and move it to the Feds. The SEVIS system works constantly crunching data.”

If a student changes his or her major or enrollment status, USF is required to update that information in the system and report it to INS, which now operates under the Department of Homeland Security.

Last year, President Judy Genshaft and then Provost David Stamps allocated money to ISSS to cover the system’s operating costs, Austell said. He also said about $120,000 was lent to the department with the agreement that the money would be returned.

Musselmann suggested that a fee of about $3 to $5 be charged to all USF students so international students are not facing a $50 payment charge each time they register for classes.

“They keep increasing our fees for everything else,” Musselmann said. “Most people won’t notice if there’s a $3 increase.”

Austell said when Congress first introduced the student-tracking system in 1996 under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, students were expected to pay for the costs.

“It was always said that it would be paid by students, but Congress didn’t say how,” Austell said.

International student Caroline Desponts said foreign exchange students should have to pay for a system that is intended for international security.

“If it’s for international security, then it’s not just mine, it’s everybody’s security,” Desponts said. “We already pay four times more than regular students.”

“I can take that to the provost and see what (Renu Khator) wants to do,” Austell said. “I can’t promise what’s going to happen with this. The best I can do is say ‘Here’s an idea.'”