Minnesota Bans Free Online University Courses from Outside Minnesota
Oct. 20, 2012
The state of Minnesota has discovered a fiendish plot against the residents of the state. Thirty-three major universities are offering free courses online.
The state has warned its residents not to take these courses.
Why not? Because the law says that no out-of-state university can sell education in Minnesota unless it is registered.
But the courses are free.
Yes, but they involve the use of time.
But the law -- decades old -- does not mention the spending of time. Only money.
Well, that doesn't matter. What matters is that the state of Minnesota is determined not to have its residents cheated of their valuable time by such fly-by night diploma mills as Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Cal Tech, Columbia, and Duke. No, sir. The residents of Minnesota are defenseless sitting ducks who must be protected from academic predators.
The target is Coursera, which makes these courses available online for free. No degrees are granted or promised.
Coursera has posted this warning on its site.
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 Department of Higher Education says that residents may take such courses if they are out of state at the time.
Across the Web, howls of derisive laughter have greeted the decree.
This policy by the state is an example of North's Law #1 of bureaucracy: "Some bureaucrat will eventually enforce the letter of the law to the point of absurdity."
In every bureaucracy, there will be a George Roedler. These people are determined. They say things that get normal people to start giggling uncontrollably, yet they say them with a straight face. Forbes reports:
Defending the statute, George Roedler, Manager of Institutional Registration & Licensing for the state of Minnesota says, "We regulate colleges & universities that enroll Minnesota residents. They are required to register as degree granting institutions with us." When I pointed out that students are not actually obtaining a degree upon the completion of these online courses, he argued that, "Our statute does not exempt free and non credit bearing courses."
At some point, the legislature will intervene and re-write the law. It will do this in order to get college-educated people around the world to stop giggling. It is one thing to have Garrison Keillor tease the state of Minnesota. But what if Jon Stewart does a segment on the The Daily Show?