Minnesota: Free online courses are illegal

It’s illegal to offer free, online courses in Minnesota, state education officials have told Coursera, which partners with universities to provide massive open online courses, or MOOC’s. Under state law, a degree-granting institution must pay get state authorization and pay a registration fee to offer instruction.

It’s a matter of  “consumer protection for students,” Tricia Grimes, a policy analyst for the state’s Office of Higher Education, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Stanford, Columbia, Michigan, et al don’t charge students for Coursera courses and don’t offer degrees to MOOC students. That doesn’t matter, another official tells Slate.  Students can’t waste their money, but they might waste their time in a non-authorized course, says George Roedler, manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Coursera added a terms of service notice telling Minnesotans not to do any learning, unless they go out of state. I predict ridicule will lead to a MOOC exception very quickly.

Update:  Ridicule works! Minnesota education officials have issued a statement saying free higher ed doesn’t require state approval.

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  1. My wife is a lecturer at a state University and the teaching staff there has been passing this around with the comment “our state government may be stupid, but it’s not this stupid”.

    On the other hand, I checked with my oldest child and he admitted that not only he, but many of his friends, had gone out on the Internet and wasted time. So this is happening in my own house!

  2. Obi-Wandreas says:

    Here we have yet another power/money grab justified as ‘consumer protection.’ As usual it is talentless bureaucrats, completely devoid of any practical skills or actual usefulness, who need to justify their paycheck by claiming that we are all children who need protecting.

    If the love of liberty were not so weak nowadays, people would be asking why (given this idiocy as well as the amount of pseudo-intellectual bovine excrement that does get accredited) do we bother with requiring government accreditation in the first place.

    If there is a compromise solution, it is to have a system of accreditation, but make it voluntary. Let people actually be adults and decide on their own whether the benefits outweigh the risks.

  3. I think they’ve recanted now, pointing out that the law was aimed at diploma mills, 20 years ago, when no one had thought of free online courses. What they’ll do about credit- or degree-granting institutions still unclear.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    The exception has already happened. The state will not bother “free not-for-credit” courses. There may also be a First Amendment problem if it tries to prohibit other non-brick-and-mortar courses.