Minnesota has decided to crack down on free online education, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports. The state recently notified Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its courses to residents. Coursera, which we wrote about on EducationOnline, is a California-based startup that partners with top-tier universities around the world to offer free online classes to anyone who wants to take them – except Minnesotans, that is.
A policy analyst for Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education said that they were simply enforcing a decades-old state law requiring that colleges get the government’s permission to offer instruction within its borders. Coursera has added the following special notice to Minnesota users to its terms of service:
“If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.”
Minnesota’s law is supposed to provide consumer protection to students, but the law is focused on degree-granting programs and not free courses, which is what Coursera offers. It will be difficult for the state to enforce this law, however, since Coursera’s content is freely available on the web.
Minnesota’s Attack on Innovation
Coursera provides high-quality education for free to students around the world. The company should not pose a threat to Minnesota colleges and universities, as most of the enrolled students are in high school or are simply brushing up on professional credentials.
Minnesota’s crackdown is far from being an act of consumer protection – it is a blatant attack on inovvative learning! Coursera offers free courses from reputable universities like Brown, Princeton, and Stanford, not unaccredited schools. My only question is why state officials aren’t more concerned with hunting down diploma mills. For now, law-abiding Minnesota residents will have to cross the border into another state in order to get their learning on at Coursera.