Minnesota Gets Tough on the Enemy That Is Free, Online Education

    October 19, 2012
    Josh Wolford

Free online education platform Coursera says they are “education for everyone.” But after a decision by one U.S. state, they may have to throw an “almost” into that motto.

In a truly baffling display of governmental ignorance, the state of Minnesota has outlawed Coursera. Yes, the state of Minnesota has outlawed free, online education. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports it, the ban cites a decades-old law that forces educational institutions to get permission from the state before they begin operating there.

A spokesperson for Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education defended the declaration by saying,

“This has been a longtime requirement in Minnesota (at least 20 years) and applies to online and brick-and-mortar postsecondary institutions that offer instruction to Minnesota residents as part of our overall responsibility to provide consumer protection for students.”

From Coursera’s standpoint, the Minnesota law focuses on degree-granting programs – which Coursera is not. Of course, a decades-old law would not have been able to foresee free, online education providers – but it begs the questions: Why would the state expand the scope of the law to include them?

Adding to the odd nature of the decision, it’s entirely unclear how the state plans to enforce the new law. And it’s also unclear whether the state has included other similar online education services like edX and Udacity in its ban.

Either way, Coursera has done their part to inform Minnesota residents of the decree. They’ve posted this in their terms:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. 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.

Sorry, Minnesotans who wish to expand their knowledge. I’m sure you can find everything you need to know on Facebook.

Coursera was launched earlier this year by computer science professors from Stanford University. As of today, knowledge-seekers can access 198 different courses in 18 different categories ranging from biology to business & management, from economics to engineering. Coursera currently boasts 33 University partners.