SAN JOSE -- A San Jose university that for years has relied on visas to build its student body has earned accreditation, ending questions about its right to welcome international students.
It took about six years for International Technological University, a nonprofit graduate school, to earn a stamp of approval from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the agency that approves most California colleges and universities through a process that can take up to seven years. Ironically, the 19-year-old school's founder, Shu Park-Chan, died in late February, on the day of the final commission meeting.
"In some ways it was bittersweet for me," said Yau-Gene Chan, who took over as president and CEO after his father retired and moved to Hong Kong. "If there was one thing I learned from my father, it was to roll with the punches and stay very positive."
ITU has about 900 students. The vast majority come from overseas -- most from India -- for graduate programs in software engineering, business and robotics, among others. Many students work and take courses on the weekends.
Until 2005, the school was accredited by a different organization, which approves technical, vocational and distance learning institutions. When the school lost its accreditation, Chan said, school leaders decided to undergo the more rigorous review it just completed.
The university was featured in a July 2011 report by this newspaper on unaccredited colleges that attracted hundreds of students from India and other countries with the promises of student visas. But the newspaper's investigation called into question whether the schools met the criteria to do so.
To participate in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, managed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, colleges must show that they are either accredited or that their credits have been accepted by at least three accredited universities. The newspaper's investigation found that the schools, including ITU at the time, did not meet the criteria, a charge Chan disputes.
At least two of the schools investigated by this newspaper are now embroiled in federal criminal cases. Federal immigration agents in 2011 raided Tri-Valley University in Pleasanton, where more than 550 students had been listed as living at the same Sunnyvale address. The school shut down, and its president, Susan Su, awaits trial on dozens of federal charges, including conspiracy to commit visa fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, alien harboring and making false statements.
The former president of Sunnyvale's Herguan University, Jerry Wang, also is accused of visa fraud. ITU never faced any criminal charges.
Chan said International Technological University belongs in an entirely different category. Visa mills, he said, "don't create cutting-edge pioneering research, and ITU does."
The school's student body vice president, Tharun Dadi, a software engineering student from India, said he was never worried about his visa status. But he said he expects the recognition from accreditors will draw even better students to the school and help them land good jobs.
"It's a big relief,'' said Dadi, who hopes to get a job at a Silicon Valley company after earning his master's degree. "It's a big relief to all the students.''
Chan said he hopes ITU's new status will allow him to realize the vision of his father, an electrical engineering professor emeritus at Santa Clara University, of opening centers around the world.
"We have a very bright future ahead of us," he said.
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