Saturday, October 20, 2012

Minnesota suffering from Romnesia bans free online education and then unbans it in the face of backlash

Here's some news that will definitely have you head scratching:

As we know, college tuition is very expensive and rapidly becoming pricier. The average student debt load is astronomically rising as student borrow more and more to finance their degrees.

Additionally, in a tenuous -- yet slowly improving -- job market, many workers and work seekers need to learn new skills in order to compete.

And with rising energy/service/food costs matched with stagnant wages, an organization called Coursera -- offering free on-line courses -- has come to the rescue of millions who can not afford a higher education.

What is Coursera?

Coursera, a start-up online education company that has enrolled 1.35 million students in its free online courses since it began just five months ago, is now more than doubling, to 33, its partners, universities that will offer classes on its platform. All together, Coursera will provide more than 200 free “massive open online courses,” known as MOOCs.
The new partners include two more Ivy League institutions, Brown University and Columbia University; a liberal arts college, Wesleyan University; specialized institutions like the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; public research universities like the University of Florida; and more international schools like the University of Melbourne, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The caliber of Coursera’s partners — Princeton, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania were among the original partners — has given it credibility and cachet in higher education circles, so much so that some university presidents have begun to fret that it will reflect badly on them if they fail to sign on.  source
This service is potentially a game changer or field leveler: Poor and economically disadvantaged are now being offered a free education from the most elite American universities. This is great American innovation at work. But hold the presses, here is an inexplicable twist to this feel good story. Minnesota.
Minnesota speaks: 
We prohibit our residents by law from furthering their education by enrolling in free on-line courses. 


Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education has banned Coursera — an educational technology startup that provides massive open online courses (MOOC’S) — citing a longstanding state law that prohibits degree-granting institutions from offering instruction in Minnesota without obtaining permission from the office and paying a registration fee. The state claims Coursera was never granted such permission.
A policy analyst for Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education told The Chronicle that letters had been sent to all postsecondary institutions known to be offering courses in the state, though she was unaware if that group included other MOOC providers like edX and Udacity.
Since the law is targeted at degree-granting programs — not content freely available on the web — Coursera co-founder and Stanford computer science professor Daphne Koller said it was unclear why the popular provider was included in the crackdown.
Minnesota backsdown:
In the face of rising and angry backlash from across the country, Minnesota rescinds the ban:
For one day, Minnesota's Office of Higher Education felt the Internet's indignation as word spread that it was cracking down on free online college courses offered through Coursera and other websites. The bizarre bureaucratic decision was first reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education on Thursday morning, and it became Internet-wide news after my blog post about it Thursday evening went viral, thanks in part to the user-generated news board Reddit.
I've just gotten word that the state has reconsidered its stance. Here's the new statement from Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education:
Obviously, our office encourages lifelong learning and wants Minnesotans to take advantage of educational materials available on the Internet, particularly if they’re free. No Minnesotan should hesitate to take advantage of free, online offerings from Coursera.
He added that the 20-year-old statute in question clearly didn't envision free online classes from accredited universities:
When the legislature convenes in January, my intent is to work with the Governor and Legislature to appropriately update the statute to meet modern-day circumstances. Until that time, I see no reason for our office to require registration of free, not-for-credit offerings.  source

I guess Minnesota was suffering from a touch of -- as President Obama says affects Romney -- flip flopping Romnesia.

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