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Saudi Student Arrested on Terrorism Charges: The Visa Impact

As VOA reported Thursday, Saudi national Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, who was studying in the Texas, was arrested on a federal charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. He allegedly bought chemicals and equipment necessary to make bombs, and his email records allegedly indicate that he sent himself lists of potential targets and jihadist messages.

Aldawsari was also, according to the FBI’s affidavit, in the country legally on an F-1 student visa issued in 2008. He arrived in the U.S. first for a year-long English language program, and then entered Texas Tech University with a major in chemical engineering. He had recently transferred to nearby South Plains College and was majoring in business.

Aldawsari’s studies were funded through a scholarship with a Saudi-based industrial corporation, which paid his educational and living expenses.

In his diaries, translated in the FBI’s affidavit, Aldawsari writes that he was accepted for both a government scholarship and the corporate scholarship, choosing the corporate scholarship because:
First, [it] sends its students directly to America, …contrary to [the other[ which requires its students to study in the Land of the Two Holy Places for one year. Second, [the sponsoring corporation’s] financial scholarship is the largest, which will help tremendously in providing me with the support I need for Jihad, God willing.

Interestingly, according to the Tennessean, court records indicate that Aldawsari’s blog contradicts this account. His blog entries from 2008 apparently paint a picture of a student adjusting to life in America:
On his blog, he talked about learning English, chemistry and physics. He quoted the movie Meet Joe Black, described his love of zombie movies and video games. And he fell in love with a Vanderbilt student helping at the English Language Center.

"I am falling in love of her. …" He wrote. "She is gorgeous that I cann't forget her just right away … I am asking Allah the great to covert her to Islam and marry me."

Aldawsari expressed hope that he could eventually score a job at Google and openly admired America's culture of volunteerism. In recalling an outing when he and other students helped build a home, he remarked, "I think this trip is really a good one that we saw how volunteering is a big part of the American culture and I so interested in volunteering because I like help the others."

The Tennessean says it was in 2010 when the tone of the blog changed dramatically.

The number of Saudi students in the U.S. has increased dramatically in recent years, largely thanks to scholarships being offered by the Saudi government – the type Aldawsari said he turned down. The latest data from the Institute for International Education shows that foreign student enrollments from Saudi Arabia increased 25% in 2010.

Not surprisingly, some U.S. lawmakers have reacted by questioning the efficacy of U.S. student visa policies. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, responded with a statement calling for tighter enforcement of immigration laws. He said in the statement, “We shouldn’t be surprised that terrorists continue to enter the U.S. on visas when our immigration laws are so loosely enforced. The 9-11 hijackers entered the U.S. after obtaining visas. And the Christmas Day bomber was able to board a plane en route to Detroit because he too had a visa.”

(Although, to be fair, the 9/11 hijacker who was in the U.S. on an F student visa was in gross violation of his visa terms, having never showed up to the English language school he had claimed he would attend (as reported by the 9/11 Commission). And the so-called Christmas bomber was on a multiple-entry tourist visa, not a student visa).

According to Reporter News, Representative Mac Thornberry said this case should be used to generate lessons learned for screening of student visa applicants. Reporter News also quotes Representative Mike Conaway as saying that these allegations shouldn’t affect the way the U.S. hands out student visas:
Big Country Rep. Mike Conaway said having foreign students in the country is valuable because they learn about Americans.

"And they take a little bit of the good from America back with them," said Conaway, a Midland Republican.

He said he doesn't think the allegations against the Lubbock student call for eliminating student visas.

"But we ought look at how this fellow got his, what was done to check him out, to see if there were any indications that he was going to do this that we should have seen before he got the visa," Conaway said.

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Police open hazing investigation after Dartmouth student found dead

FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.
FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.

Police have opened a hazing investigation after a Dartmouth College student was found dead in a river in early July.

Police received a tip that hazing was involved, and there was evidence that alcohol might have been involved in the death, USA Today reported. (July 2024)

Americans' confidence in higher education falls, poll shows

FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.
FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.

Confidence in higher education among Americans is declining, according to a recent poll that found 36% of adults expressed a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in higher education, down from 57% in 2015.

The Gallup and the Lumina Foundation poll also revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of adults feel the U.S. higher education system is heading in the “wrong direction” vs. 31% of those respondents saying it is going in the “right direction.”

The poll, conducted June 3-23, surveyed 1,005 Americans aged 18 and older.

Declining enrollment mirrors concerns voiced by some Americans about colleges focusing on political agendas, neglecting relevant skills and being overly expensive.

Nathan Wyand, a software engineer in Charlottesville, Virginia, told VOA News he chose not to attend college due to high costs and the challenging curriculum.

“The mode of learning was very stressful. Every month and a half, I would break down in tears,” Wyand said, adding, “I didn’t want to deal with the debt and lack of freedom in choosing what to learn.”

Post-high school, Wyand said he explored different jobs before pursuing software development through a 10-month data science bootcamp at Flatiron School in New York.

“I took online courses at Flatiron, learning about software development. In my current role, I have practical experience, though less theoretical knowledge than peers with computer science degrees,” Wyand noted.

Wyand valued freedom in learning over being told what to learn in a structured classroom.

“I didn't want other people to tell me what I was going to learn, I was tired of that and ready to take charge of my education,” he said.

While costs influenced Wyand’s decision against college, he advises against dismissing it solely due to expenses.

“Don’t avoid college because you’re lazy or because it’s expensive. Avoid college if you feel that there is something better or more interesting to you that you can pursue instead. It’s important to have an objective,” he said.

The survey conducted last month reaffirms that 36% of adults maintain strong confidence in higher education, unchanged from the previous year.

“At a time where the U.S. needs more skilled Americans to fulfill our labor market needs of today and tomorrow it is concerning to see that they are losing confidence that higher education can deliver what they need,” Courtney Brown, vice president at Lumina, an education nonprofit, told VOA News.

Researchers are concerned by fewer Americans expressing “some” confidence and more reporting of “very little” or “none.”

“This year’s findings show a notable increase in those with little to no confidence, now at 32%, compared to 10% in 2015. This trend is alarming and must be reversed,” Brown said.

Brown stressed the need to address concerns about perceived political influences and lack of relevant skills in higher education.

“Society must tackle college costs directly. Many find college unaffordable, leading to crippling debt. I do believe higher ed can transform and ensure it meets the needs of students, but to do so we must pay attention to these data and address these concerns head on – the stakes of not doing so are far too great for individuals, communities and our nation,” Brown added.

John Pollock, a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, told VOA he agrees with the poll’s findings.

“College is a business, not a guarantee for jobs or debt repayment. Many our age see multiple paths to success,” Pollock said. He added that networking opportunities are one value that colleges offer.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who expressed a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, 27% said it is important for individuals and society to be educated.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who said their confidence in higher education was “very little/none,” 41% cited colleges as being “too liberal,” or trying to “indoctrinate” or “brainwash” students as reasons for their replies.

Overall, 68% of respondents believe higher education is on the wrong track, contrasting with 31% who see it heading in the right direction.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

Report: US could have 2.8M international students in 10 years

FILE - Students walk on the campus of Boston College, April 29, 2024, in Boston.
FILE - Students walk on the campus of Boston College, April 29, 2024, in Boston.

The United States, which currently has 1,057,188 students from 210 countries, could have 2.8 million students by 2034, according to a report in India’s Free Press Journal.

The report says India is likely to make a significant contribution to the increase, along with China, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh. (June 2024)

Small group of colleges educates 20% of undergrads 

FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.
FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.

A group of just 102 public and private, four-year U.S. colleges and universities has an enrollment of 3.3 million students – about 1 in 5 of the nation’s undergraduates.

The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at the institutions, their locations and their students. (June 2024)

After $1B gift, most Johns Hopkins medical students won't pay tuition

A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex, July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex, July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Monday.

Starting in the fall, the donation will cover full tuition for medical students from families earning less than $300,000. Living expenses and fees will be covered for students from families who earn up to $175,000.

Bloomberg Philanthropies said that currently almost two-thirds of all students seeking a doctor of medicine degree from Johns Hopkins qualify for financial aid, and 45% of the current class will also receive living expenses. The school estimates that graduates' average total loans will decrease from $104,000 currently to $60,279 by 2029.

The gift will also increase financial aid for students at the university's schools of nursing, public health, and other graduate schools.

"By reducing the financial barriers to these essential fields, we can free more students to pursue careers they're passionate about – and enable them to serve more of the families and communities who need them the most," Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, said in a statement on Monday. Bloomberg received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1964.

FILE - Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks during the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 19, 2023.
FILE - Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks during the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 19, 2023.

The gift will go to John Hopkins' endowment and every penny will go directly to students, said Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University.

"Mike has really been moved by the challenges that the professions confronted during the course of the pandemic and the heroic efforts they've made to protecting and providing care to American citizens during the pandemic," Daniels said in an interview. "I think he simply wanted to recognize the importance of these fields and provide this support to ensure that the best and brightest could attend medical school and the school of nursing and public health."

Bloomberg Philanthropies previously gifted $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins in 2018 to ensure that undergraduate students are accepted regardless of their family's income.

Johns Hopkins will be the latest medical school to offer free tuition to most or all of their medical students.

In February Ruth Gottesman, a former professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the widow of a Wall Street investor, announced that she was donating $1 billion to the school. The gift meant that four-year students immediately received free tuition and all other students will be offered free tuition in the fall.

In 2018, Kenneth and Elaine Langone gave $100 million to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine to make tuition free for all current and future medical students through an endowment fund. The couple gave a second gift of $200 million in 2023 to the NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine to guarantee free tuition for all medical students. Kenneth Langone is a co-founder of Home Depot.

Other medical schools, like UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, offer merit-based scholarships thanks to some $146 million in donations from the recording industry mogul, David Geffen. The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine has also offered tuition-free education for medical students since 2008.

Candice Chen, associate professor, Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University, has researched the social missions of medical schools and had a strong reaction to the recent major gifts to John Hopkins, NYU and Albert Einstein.

"Collectively the medical schools right now, I hate to say this, but they're failing in terms of producing primary care, mental health specialists as well as the doctors who will work in and serve in rural and underserved communities," Chen said. She would have loved to see this gift go to Meharry Medical College in Tennessee, for example, which is a historically Black school that has produced many primary care doctors who work in communities that have shortages.

Bloomberg granted Meharry Medical College $34 million in 2020 as part of a $100 million gift he made to four Black medical schools to help reduce the debt of their medical students for four years.

There have been only a handful of previous $1 billion donations to universities in the U.S., most coming in the past several years.

In 2022, the venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann, gave $1.1 billion to Stanford University for a new school focusing on climate change.

The small liberal arts school McPherson College has received two matching pledges since 2022 from an anonymous donor totaling $1 billion. The school, which has around 800 enrolled students, has a program for automotive restoration and is located 57 miles north of Wichita, Kansas.

Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, gave $3 billion to charities in 2023, making him one of the largest donors, according to research by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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