Minnesota Says No To Free Online College Courses

A new trend has popped up on the education radar lately — free online classes anyone from anywhere can take to learn about a plethora of subjects. It’s known as MOOC — massive open online courses, and Coursera is one of the big names out there offering a variety of learning material. But the state of Minnesota is miffed because the universities offering classes through Coursera didn’t get permission to operate there, prompting the company to change its terms of services for customers in that state.

Minnesota residents now have a choice — stay away from Coursera or leave the state, basically, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Coursera updated its TOS thusly:

Notice for Minnesota Users:

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.

The state’s Office of Higher Education says all postsecondary institutions offering courses in Minnesota had been informed of the law, which apparently isn’t new.

“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,” a policy analyst told the Chronicle in an email.

But Coursera’s co-founder says she’s confused, as the law focuses on degree-granting programs, which Coursera is not. She adds that most of the people taking classes with Coursera are just brushing up on certain areas or are in high school, and as such wouldn’t be likely to take classes at traditional universities. So it’s not like Coursera is stealing students, she explains.

And as Slate points out, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education really isn’t trying to attack Coursera, but rather has a beef with the universities offering classes through its website. Those universities need to obtain permission first and then pay a registration fee before offering instruction in Minnesota, which none of those degree-granting institutions did, we presume.

“It’s not like we’re sending the police out if somebody signs up online,” the manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Office of Higher Education explains. “It’s just that the school is operating contrary to state law.”

One solution that’s been bandied about? Just head to a cafe across the border with free Wi-Fi access and do your coursework from there. If you live near a border in the first place, that is.

Minnesota Gives Coursera the Boot, Citing a Decades-Old Law [The Chronicle of Higher Education]