U.S. schools compete for Saudi students – without being able to do effective background checks on applicants

Another ill-advised act eeking out of our nation’s campuses:

Thousands of students from Saudi Arabia are enrolling on college campuses across the United States this semester under a new educational exchange program brokered by President Bush
and Saudi King Abdullah.

The program will quintuple the number of Saudi students and scholars here by the academic year’s end. And big, public universities from Florida to the Kansas plains are in a fierce competition for their tuition dollars.

The kingdom’s royal family – which is paying full scholarships for most of the 15,000 students – says the program will helpstem unrest at home by schooling the country’s brightest in the American tradition. The U.S. State Department sees the exchange as a way to build ties with future Saudi leaders and young scholars at a time of unsteady relations with the Muslim world.

Administrators at Kansas State University, an agricultural school surrounded by miles of prairie grass, say the scholarships are a bonanza for public education.

But some officials say efforts to fast-track educational diplomacy with Saudi Arabia could use additional scrutiny. Clark Kent Ervin, a former inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, says the U.S. government has yet to ensure proper safeguards are in place to do effective background checks on all applicants.

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