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US Withdraws Unpopular Student Visa Rule  

FILE - International students carry their national flags at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo.
FILE - International students carry their national flags at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo.

The Biden administration has withdrawn a highly unpopular proposed rule for international students that would have set student visas to shorter fixed terms.

The proposal would have required international students to apply for visa extensions to complete their studies. Public comments about the proposed rule, published late last year, complained that the cost of application fees and related requirements would burden foreign students and scholars.

Also, if students had been from a country with a visa overstay rate above 10% or a country on the U.S. State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list, they would have been limited to a fixed two-year term for student visas, meaning that they would have to reapply within that time period, doubling their paperwork.

“We are withdrawing the NPRM [notice of proposed rulemaking] and will analyze the entirety of the NPRM … to determine what changes may be appropriate and consistent with Department of Homeland Security’s needs, policies and applicable law,” the Biden administration stated Tuesday in the U.S. Federal Register, a daily journal of the U.S. government that publishes federal regulations, proposed rules, executive orders, proclamations and other federal documents.

When the Trump administration proposed the rule in September 2020, the Department of Homeland Security, which administers visas after the U.S. Department of State issues them, received 32,000 public comments opposing the rule.

Sofia Elkin Becerra, a Costa Rican senior at the University of Maryland and president of the university’s International Student Union, told VOA in October 2020 that the rule was "pretty unclear" and said that "even the international student advisers don't have all the answers for students in my situation. So, I’m left uncertain of if or how it will even affect me.”

Less than 1% of public commenters expressed support for the proposed rule, with many of them saying they believed it would deter illegal immigration, protect U.S. workers and stop espionage, according to the Federal Register.

Others said the proposed rule would discriminate against some nationalities and “significantly burden the foreign students, exchange scholars, foreign media representatives and U.S. employers by requiring extension of stays in order to continue with their programs of study or work,” the Federal Register stated.

International students typically study for four years to earn an undergraduate degree, and many students and graduates pursue additional studies or training, such as the Optional Practical Training extension to the student F-1 visa, to acquire hands-on working experience in their fields.

The proposed changes also would have burdened U.S. employers, commenters said. If extension applicants had not applied or received approval in a timely fashion, it could have delayed their start dates for work or caused them to breach agreements with employers.

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Number of US Doctoral Degrees at All-Time High

FILE - Graduation ceremonies for University of North Carolina Wilmington are shown in this 2014 file photo.
FILE - Graduation ceremonies for University of North Carolina Wilmington are shown in this 2014 file photo.

The number of doctoral degrees awarded by colleges and universities in the United States is at an all-time high, following a drop during the pandemic.

Forbes reports the jump between 2021 and 2022 was the largest one-year increase recorded since 1970. (February 2024)

US Embassy in Ghana Expands Outreach, Invites More Ghanaians to Study in America

US Embassy in Ghana Expands Outreach, Invites More Ghanaians to Study in America
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In the past academic year, U.S. colleges and universities saw a nearly 32 percent increase in Ghanaian students, making Ghana one of the top 25 countries in the world for sending students to the United States. To accommodate the growing interest, the U.S. Embassy in Ghana has opened a new resource center for young people considering an American education. Senanu Tord reports from Kumasi, Ghana.

How Are Colleges Using Generative AI?

FILE PHOTO: Educators are using tools such as ChatGPT to help students learn.
FILE PHOTO: Educators are using tools such as ChatGPT to help students learn.

Professors are using tools such as ChatGPT to provide feedback, grade assignments, prepare slide decks and more.

Ashley Mowreader reports on a Tyton Partners survey for Inside Higher Ed. (February 2023)

US Schools Wrestle with Cellphones in Classrooms

Kelli Anderson takes attendance from the rear of her Language Arts 9 class at Delta High School, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. At the rural Utah school, there is a strict policy requiring students to check their phones at the door when entering every class.
Kelli Anderson takes attendance from the rear of her Language Arts 9 class at Delta High School, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. At the rural Utah school, there is a strict policy requiring students to check their phones at the door when entering every class.

In California, a high school teacher complains that students watch Netflix on their phones during class. In Maryland, a chemistry teacher says students use gambling apps to place bets during the school day.

Around the country, educators say students routinely send Snapchat messages in class, listen to music and shop online, among countless other examples of how smartphones distract from teaching and learning.

The hold that phones have on adolescents in America today is well-documented, but teachers say parents are often not aware to what extent students use them inside the classroom. And increasingly, educators and experts are speaking with one voice on the question of how to handle it: Ban phones during classes.

"Students used to have an understanding that you aren't supposed to be on your phone in class. Those days are gone," said James Granger, who requires students in his science classes at a Los Angeles-area high school to place their phones in "a cellphone cubby" with numbered slots. "The only solution that works is to physically remove the cellphone from the student."

Most schools already have rules regulating student phone use, but they are enforced sporadically. A growing number of leaders at the state and federal levels have begun endorsing school cellphone bans and suggesting new ways to curb access to the devices.

The latest state intervention came in Utah, where Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, last month urged all school districts and the state Board of Education to remove cellphones from classrooms. He cited studies that show learning improves, distractions are decreased and students are more likely to talk to each other if phones are taken away.

A ninth grader places his cellphone into a phone holder as he enters class Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. Each classroom has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.
A ninth grader places his cellphone into a phone holder as he enters class Feb. 23, 2024, in Delta, Utah. Each classroom has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.

"We just need a space for six or seven hours a day where kids are not tethered to these devices," Cox told reporters this month. He said his initiative, which is not binding, is part of a legislative push to protect kids in Utah from the harms of social media.

Last year, Florida became the first state to crack down on phones in school. A law that took effect in July requires all Florida public schools to ban student cellphone use during class time and block access to social media on district Wi-Fi. Some districts, including Orange County Public Schools, went further and banned phones the entire school day.

Oklahoma, Vermont and Kansas have also recently introduced what is becoming known as "phone-free schools" legislation.

And two U.S. senators — Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat — introduced legislation in December that would require a federal study on the effects of cellphone use in schools on students' mental health and academic performance. Theirs is one of several bipartisan alliances calling for stiffer rules for social media companies and greater online safety for kids.

Nationally, 77% of U.S. schools say they prohibit cellphones at school for non-academic use, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

But that number is misleading. It does not mean students are following those bans or all those schools are enforcing them.

Just ask teachers.

"Cellphone use is out of control. By that, I mean that I cannot control it, even in my own classroom," said Patrick Truman, who teaches at a Maryland high school that forbids student use of cellphones during class. It is up to each teacher to enforce the policy, so Truman bought a 36-slot caddy for storing student phones. Still, every day, students hide phones in their laps or under books as they play video games and check social media.

Tired of being the phone police, he has come to a reluctant conclusion: "Students who are on their phones are at least quiet. They are not a behavior issue."

A study last year from Common Sense Media found that 97% of kids use their phones during school hours, and that kids say school cellphone policies vary — often from one classroom to another — and aren't always enforced.

For a school cellphone ban to work, educators and experts say the school administration must be the one to enforce it and not leave that task to teachers. The Phone-Free Schools Movement, an advocacy group formed last year by concerned mothers, says policies that allow students to keep phones in their backpacks, as many schools do, are ineffective.

"If the bookbag is on the floor next to them, it's buzzing and distracting, and they have the temptation to want to check it," said Kim Whitman, a co-founder of the group, which advises schools to require phones be turned off and locked away all day.

Some students say such policies take away their autonomy and cut off their main mode of communication with family and friends. Pushback also has come from parents who fear being cut off from their kids if there is a school emergency. Whitman advises schools to make exceptions for students with special educational and medical needs, and to inform parents on expert guidance that phones can be a dangerous distraction for students during an emergency.

Jaden Willoughey, 14, shares the concern about being out of contact with his parents if there's a crisis. But he also sees the upsides of turning in his phone at school.

At Delta High School in rural Utah, where Jaden is a freshman, students are required to check their phones at the door when entering every class. Each of the school's 30 or so classrooms has a cellphone storage unit that looks like an over-the-door shoe bag with three dozen smartphone-sized slots.

"It helps you focus on your work, and it's easier to pay attention in class," Jaden said.

A classmate, Mackenzie Stanworth, 14, said it would be hard to ignore her phone if it was within reach. It's a relief, she said, to "take a break from the screen and the social life on your phone and actually talk to people in person."

It took a few years to tweak the cellphone policy and find a system that worked, said Jared Christensen, the school's vice principal.

"At first it was a battle. But it has been so worth it," he said. "Students are more attentive and engaged during class time. Teachers are able to teach without competing with cellphones. And student learning has increased," he said, citing test scores that are at or above state averages for the first time in years. "I can't definitively say it's because of this policy. But I know it's helping."

The next battle will be against earbuds and smartwatches, he said. Even with phones stashed in pouches, students get caught listening to music on air pods hidden under their hair or hoodies. "We haven't included earbuds in our policy yet. But we're almost there."

Governments Should Recognize the Economic Benefits of International

FILE - Commuters walk across a street in the central business district in Beijing, Aug. 25, 2022. Some academic observers argue that international students play an important role in society.
FILE - Commuters walk across a street in the central business district in Beijing, Aug. 25, 2022. Some academic observers argue that international students play an important role in society.

Several English-speaking countries, including Canada and the U.K., have recently moved to limit international student numbers.

While the potential downsides of student immigration are often reported on, Alan Beattie of The Financial Times argues the upsides aren’t stressed enough. (February 2023)

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