The state of Minnesota apparently doesn't like free online education that could benefit its citizens. The state has decided to tell California-based online education startup Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its online courses to the state’s residents without first getting permission from the state and paying a registration fee. Coursera was founded by Stanford computer science professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, and partners with top universities around the world to offer certain classes online for free to anyone who wants access to them.
A policy analyst from the state’s Office of Higher Education says that Minnesota is simply enforcing a state law that requires colleges to get the state government’s permission. Of course, enforcing the rule is nearly impossible to do because these free courses are offered online, but it does force Coursera to throw a warning to potential users about the policy within the borders of Minnesota. Coursera offers a variety of courses related to math, science, game development, and more. It currently offers 182 course in 18 categories, according to its official web site.
Coursera had added the following to it terms of service for Minnesota users, just to be safe:
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.
Speaking to Slate, George Roedler, manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said that the issue isn't with Coursera in particular, but with universities that offer classes online. He says that state law prohibits degree-granting institutions from offering instruction in Minnesota without obtaining permission and paying a registration fee (which can be thousands of dollars). Of course, many other institutions inside and outside of the U.S. are probably violating Minnesota State law too.
"It's not like we're sending the police out if somebody signs up online," Roedler adds. "It's just that the school is operating contrary to state law."
Roedler says that the law is meant to protect Minnesota students from being ripped off by questionable schools. He also says that he suspects that Coursera's partner institutions wouldn't have any trouble obtaining registration. He closes by saying that he was surprised when Coursera responded with a change to its terms-of-service aimed at Minnesota residents about the law.
Of course Roedler apparently doesn't get that no one is getting ripped off because all of the courses offered by Coursera are free.