Coursera is Back On in Minnesota

Thumb Up for Online Learning Minnesota

n last week’s blog post “Minnesota Bans Free Online Education,” we discussed how the state of Minnesota recently informed Coursera, a California-based startup that partners with universities to offer free online courses, that they were not allowed to offer their courses to Minnesota students. Sparked by controversial responses to an article written by the Chronicle of Higher Education which reports on the matter, Minnesota has elected to revoke their decision.

Original Controversy

The Pioneer Press reveals that the original discrepancy was over a twenty-year law that required schools to register with Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education. Since a majority of Coursera’s schools had not gone through this lengthy process, Minnesota banned Coursera entirely and had them update their terms of service with a disclaimer for Minnesota students.

This decision outraged many online communities, which claimed that Minnesota was against free online education as a whole. Officials reportedly came-down hard on Coursera and threatened that they would tell their affiliated schools they were out of compliance and report the schools to their accreditation bodies if Coursera did not cooperate.

Minnesota’s Response

In response to the complaints, officials claim that their intention was never to ban all of online education in the state of Minnesota, but ensure that online schools were properly regulated. In fact, 160 postsecondary institutions are currently already registered to provide online instruction to people in Minnesota.

State officials have recognized that in today’s era of Massive Open Online Courses their statute was outdated and in need of revision. As a result, they have stipulated that while paid-for-credit online schools must still register with the Office of Higher Education, free online courses do not. In January, they intend to formally update the law to better meet the needs of the current educational landscape and have considered making additional changes to legislature that include reciprocity agreements with other states to ease the registration process.

Why Enforce the Law in the First Place?

While it was clear that the controversy created around the issue was what spurred Minnesota’s revaluation of their decision, I am uncertain as to why they chose to enforce that particular law with Couersa in the first place—especially if they are able to go back on that choice so easily. There are certainly a number of other unenforced laws on the books today… Although I do not feel like there was ever a grand conspiracy against free online education from the side of Minnesota officials, it does seem to me that Coursera was specifically and somewhat forcibly targeted, which gets my wheels turning.

Do you think that whole issue was really just an unfortunate misunderstanding as Minnesota officials claim? Or is Minnesota just trying to put a spin on the situation in order to lessen the backlash on their mistake?