US-Cuba thaw may expand academic travel for education majors

William Woods EDU

Even during the half-century long political and economic standoff between the United States and Cuba, and even among the loudest critics of the Marxist regime of Fidel Castro, there has been recognition that k-12 education thrives in Cuba, despite great odds and obstacles.

The UK Independent published a deep look into what it calls “the world’s most ambitious literacy campaign.” It details Cuba’s education success formula: a strict maximum of 25 children per primary-school class, and an expectation that parents must work closely with teachers as part of every child’s education and social development. According to the article, it’s not uncommon for schools to open at 6:30am and close 12 hours later.

Now William Woods University education students, and their peers across the country, may find it easier to see and experience that success first hand.

Recent news by the Obama administration that the U.S. will re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba will surely expand academic travel to the island nation, experts say. Expanded diplomatic relations builds on an earlier  relaxation of restrictions on academic travel to Cuba.

The number of American students studying in Cuba dropped precipitously after 2004, when the George W. Bush administration imposed new restrictions that, among other things, limited study abroad programs in Cuba to those lasting at least 10 weeks, required university-led programs to be run by full-time faculty members and restricted universities with Cuba programs from enrolling students from institutions other than their own.

All told, the number of U.S. students studying in Cuba fell from 2,148 in 2003-4 to 251 in 2008-9, according to data maintained by the Institute of International Education.

Under revised rules:

American colleges wanting to set up credit programs in Cuba will have to follow certain “general” rules but will not need a special license from the U.S. Treasury Department to do so. Obtaining those licenses has been difficult, and many colleges have complained that they may be approved one year and denied the next, or that they can’t get any decision on their applications — as a result many colleges stopped trying to set up programs.

American colleges will be allowed to involve adjunct faculty members in their programs, from which they have been barred. This restriction has prevented colleges from working with scholars with unique academic expertise about Cuba who may not be on their permanent faculties.

American colleges with Cuba programs will again be able to enroll students from other colleges in those programs — which is crucial since most colleges will still not likely set up programs in Cuba, but may have students who want to study there.

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