Every day, it seems, we hear of yet another story of silly out-of-date regulations, which may have had a reasonable purpose initially, getting in the way of perfectly legitimate innovation. For example, there's been a massive growth in "open courseware" or open education programs, that put various educational classes online for everyone to benefit. They're not designed to replace the degrees of college, but rather to just help people learn
. One of the biggest ones, Coursera, recently told people in Minnesota that they could no longer take Coursera classes
, due to ridiculously outdated Minnesota regulations:
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 key regulation here, 136A.6a
is clearly about stopping questionable degree mills from being used in Minnesota. It specifically refers to "academic degrees":
The legislature has found and hereby declares that the availability of legitimate courses and programs leading to academic degrees offered by responsible private not-for-profit and for-profit institutions of postsecondary education and the existence of legitimate private colleges and universities are in the best interests of the people of this state. The legislature has found and declares that the state can provide assistance and protection for persons choosing private institutions and programs, by establishing policies and procedures to assure the authenticity and legitimacy of private postsecondary education institutions and programs. The legislature has also found and declares that this same policy applies to any private and public postsecondary educational institution located in another state or country which offers or makes available to a Minnesota resident any course, program or educational activity which does not require the leaving of the state for its completion.
The other law just says that the attorney general and the courts can shut down anyone who violates the law -- which is what they threatened to do with Coursera.
Tricia Grimes, a policy analyst for the state’s Office of Higher Education, said letters had been sent to all postsecondary institutions known to be offering courses in Minnesota.
But that seems to be a willful misreading of the regulation (which seems silly in the first place). Coursera isn't a degree mill. It's not about earning the degree, it's about actually learning. Minnesota's interpretation of the law is fairly ridiculous. It basically means that anyone who wants to access online educational material in Minnesota is limited by the state determining what it considers okay.