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Project Aims to Bring Iraqi Students to U.S. Colleges

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Project Aims to Bring Iraqi Students to U.S. Colleges

Iraq

Project Aims to Bring Iraqi Students to U.S. Colleges

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of consequences of the war in Iraq: academic life has been disrupted there. Hundreds of professors have been killed, and sectarian violence has kept thousands of students from attending local universities.

A U.S. program is working to relocate some of those Iraqi students to American colleges, but the idea of bringing Iraqi students to the U.S. is meeting with some resistance. Wisconsin Public Radio's Brian Bull reports.

BRIAN BULL: Twenty-year-old Randa Adil wants to study architectural engineering. She was ready to start classes at Baghdad's Al-Nahrain University but fled Iraq with her mother and siblings when the situation got too dangerous. She's now in Syria.

Ms. RANDA ADIL (Student): I have two friends killed from the car bombs. I'm so sorry for them and for their families, and I see that from the news, that the situation is still dangerous, so I can't go back. I have my dad, I have my friends there, my life, my everything.

BULL: Adil says she can't afford schools in Damascus and is hoping to earn her degree in America. She's one of the students chosen for the Iraqi Student Project, a program founded last year by educators in the U.S. and Syria.

If she aces her F-1 visa interview and application process, she's expected this fall to attend St. Mary's College in South Bend, Indiana. Coordinators to the Iraqi Student Project say they have worked to get tuition waivers for 20 qualified students this year, and several candidates have already completed their visa interviews.

The project's American coordinator, Jane Pitz, says even if a visa is granted, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will do its own review, which can take another two months. Pitz complains that it's a frustrating process.

Ms. JANE PITZ (Coordinator, Iraqi Student Project): It irritates me a lot when people say, are you sure you're not letting terrorists in? And even a friend of mine said that, and I looked at him in amazement. They're college-age kids; they certainly are not terrorists. We would've known that by now.

BULL: So far there are 14 American colleges signed on with the Iraqi Student Project. Many others, like the University of Wisconsin, are hoping to get involved. First-year student Jenny Wustmann helped get a referendum passed that could fund tuition for up to five Iraqi students next year.

Wustmann's encountered critics who think bringing Iraqis to campus could be dangerous. Others argue that any new money should help struggling students from Wisconsin, not Iraq. She says she understands, but...

Ms. JENNY WUSTMANN (Student): At the same time, there are so many programs that are instilled in the state to help these students, and currently there's nothing being done right now to help these Iraqi students. These are refugees of war. I don't know how you compare needs, but in my opinion this is something that I feel needs to be done.

BULL: At a local coffeehouse, UW freshman Sam Clegg says even a minor increase in tuition shouldn't be targeted for specific humanitarian causes. Clegg also thinks the effort should be to bring an Iraqi professor to campus instead.

Mr. SAM CLEGG (Student): Students would have the chance to see their tuition dollars go to something that has clear educational benefit, and I think, you know, as an intellectual resource for the Iraqi people, a professor is one of those resources that absolutely needs to be preserved at all costs, and I think the University of Wisconsin could very well have a valid role to play in doing that.

BULL: The earliest the University of Wisconsin could see any Iraqi students would be fall of 2009. By then, coordinators say they expect to have a few dozen Iraqi students already attending American colleges, in Michigan, Illinois, New York, California, and Iowa. For NPR News, I'm Brian Bull in Madison, Wisconsin.

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