back to article State of Minnesota bans free online education

Web-based education startup Coursera offers university-level courses "for anyone to take, for free" – anyone, that is, except residents of the US state of Minnesota, where free online education has been declared illegal. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the Minnesota Office of Higher Education has told Coursera …


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  1. banjomike

    As Peppermint Patty once said...

    ..."When they start to critisize your lunch, it is time to give up".

    Suppliers of free courses must pay fees for the privilege. Stuff Minnesota.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Stupid Americans

      Especially in Minnesota.

      1. Dana W

        Re: Stupid Americans

        Actually, Minnesota is a progressive state, I live here and this is a first. I've never heard of it before,

  2. tkioz

    While it would be easy to take pot shots at the yanks over this... it does sound like the law was written in such a way to actually be useful... however that's still not a valid excuse for bureaucrats not having the common sense God gave a pineapple and granting an exception...

    1. solidsoup

      That's exactly it. There are hundreds of crappy online schools that are little more than scams. This law is a perfect example good intentions with unintended consequences. Unfortunately, writing appropriately minimalistic legislation is an even rarer talent than efficient software programming. Can we ask the team behind uTorrent (old version) to write the new law?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        There are 1000s of books published all over the world that are crap.

        Should Minnesota ban it's residents from ordering from Amazon unless the book had been approved by the legislature?

        1. solidsoup

          Until Amazon starts selling diplomas that confer credentials and hence can (supposedly) be used as a basis for selection to teaching, nursing, and various other important professions (including ones involved in writing laws) your analogy is little more than demagoguery.

          1. Helena Handcart

            And by demagoguery you mean...


          2. Muscleguy Silver badge

            Did you not read down far enough to note that they expressly do not enrol people or offer qualifications? So the analogy with books holds and your objection does not.

            1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

              "Did you not read down far enough to note that they expressly do not enrol people or offer qualifications?...." Which begs the point why do the course in the first place? The whole point of doing a degree is to get the piece of paper at the end. Sod learning, you will learn more of real value in the first six months of a proper job than you will at uni, it's simply somewhere you go to get the piece of paper to get the job in the first place. Apologies if you're one of those ivory-tower-dwelling educationalists that likes to think unadulterated education will solve all the World's ills but the reality is most people go to uni to get a better job and hence a better paycheque, not to be "enlightened". Oh, and to drink a lot of beer and get laid.

              ".....So the analogy with books holds and your objection does not." Actually it does. The whole idea behind accredited uni degrees is so that employers know the degree is actually worth something. Whilst I have met smarter people running marketstalls than in most MBA-laden boardrooms, that doesn't stop companies insisting on acredited degrees as a requirement for certain jobs. After all, when was the last time you ordered a book off Amazon without first checking the reviews either there or of others whose opinions you trust?

              So, unless you can supply some amazing insight into why free degrees are worth bothering with, I don't see why they shouldn't be regulated to ensuire their quality.

              1. My Alter Ego

                @Matt Bryan - Ughh, how narrow minded.

                " Which begs the point why do the course in the first place?" - Do you seriously think this way? Some of us actually enjoy learning something new, not because we hope to get more money for it, but because we find it personally rewarding.

                The fact that you don't get a piece of paper at the end actually makes them more attractive to me.

                Case in point, I have taught myself a great deal of orbital mechanics. Why, because I downloaded Kerbal Space Program. I could have used all the plugins to get the computer to do it for me, but I wanted to understand what was going on. To the point that I've written my own satellite tracker & orbit calculator, using only Keppler's laws and basic* physics & trig - it was actually easier than trying to understand an astronomer's dodgy javascript.

                * Basic for an aero engineer.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: @Matt Bryan - Ughh, how narrow minded.

                  "it was actually easier than trying to understand an astronomer's dodgy javascript."

                  I work with astronomers and astrophysicists. The idea that more than 1 in 1000 of them can write workable code is quite frankly, bonkers.

                  These are people who think that IDL is a programming language, FFS (have you ever seen rsync reimplemented in IDL? 200Mb of code wrapped around wget calls, when wget with the right arguments would have done it anyway)

                  Anonymous - because I have to continue working with these muppets.

                  1. arrbee

                    Re: @Matt Bryan - Ughh, how narrow minded.

                    dang, that is disappointing, I thought astronomers used Forth

                2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

                  Re: @Matt Bryan - Ughh, how narrow minded.

                  "......Do you seriously think this way?....." Yes, as far as degrees go. If I want to learn something then I do so by reading or looking at online videos, or paying to go on a course, and not by downloading a degree course which will be largely irrellevant without the face-to-face input of a lecturer. You got your orbital space mechanics knowledge from a program, not a downloaded "free" degree. It also implies you have the time, money and resources to study properly and therefore do not require a "free" degree course.

                  The whole uni structure Worldwide is geared to produce degree-holding job applicants and little else, as that is what the majority of their customers (students) want, the majority of their sponsors (capitalist corporations) want, and the majority of their controlling governments want.

                  And if you are an acredited aero engineer rather than an aero techie you will know this as you shouldn't use the term engineer without studying and passing a properly acredited uni engineering course (BEng, BSEng, BIng, etc.). And I bet you didn't do your BEng course for the love of learning, and I'm pretty sure your parents didn't stump up for it for that reason either, you did it for the extra cash you could get by getting a better job becasue you had the degree.

          3. Eddy Ito Silver badge

            "Until Amazon starts selling diplomas that confer credentials"

            Not quite as we have run into the problem of two countries separated by a common language. A course in the US is akin to a unit or module in the UK and not a full degree program or a professional certificate. It typically takes in the neighborhood of 30 courses to complete a B.A. or B.Sc. degree depending on the particular institution.

            As they are these free courses and the ensuing content and grades are only good as credentials once accepted by an authority who agrees to accept them. That authority might be of the type to grant a diploma or certificate or it could be a professional association that maintains a continuing education requirement to maintain a license. Other than that these are for self improvement and as long as there's nothing wrong with that there is no legitimate claim the state can make toward consumer protection since the only cost to the consumer is class materials (books and such) and an opportunity cost associated with the time.

        2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Think back now......

          ".... unless the book had been approved...... " Whilst not legislated, most modern courses of higher reading have approved reading lists supposed to guide students towards the right choice of material. One lecturer I knew went a step further and had a list of "muppet authors" to avoid at all costs. The law seems to be to be there to protect people, I'm not really sure what the value is of gaining an unaccredited degree, and the fee the state is asking for is peanuts and not some massive payday. TBH, there seem to be some people reflexively complaining "on principle". "It's free! Rise up freetards and defend it!"

    2. Arctic fox

      @tkioz "While it would be easy to take pot shots........" I agree with your posting in terms of.....

      .........what has been presented in this article. However, it now appears that someone has rather jumped the gun on this issue.

      "I don’t care what they do; we don’t regulate them," George Roedler, the manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, told Ars on Thursday.

      "I specifically said that [Coursera] didn’t have to put anything on their website. They could do what they wanted. They could ignore it. They chose this route and the reason I believe they did it was to try to protect the schools in their wake. So be it. That’s what they did."

      It seems that Coursera were simply taking a "just in case" belt and braces approach to their "terms and conditions" when people sign up with them. "I don’t care what they do; we don’t regulate them" does seem to be fairly explicit! At the very least Coursera do not appear to be the target.

      Choice of icon? Well, in the context a mortar board did seem appropriate. :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "While it would be easy to take pot shots........" I agree with your posting in terms of.....

        That makes more sense. Sounds like some innocuous bureaucratic issue that was blown way out of proportion.

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: @tkioz "While it would be easy to take pot shots..

        The problem is that "some manager said we could ignore it" doesn't carry any weight in court when somebody sues you

    3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      that's still not a valid excuse for bureaucrats not having the common sense God gave a pineapple and granting an exception

      And the law in question gives those bureaucrats authority to grant an exception, does it? You've read the law and determined that? Or are you just talking rubbish?

  3. andreas koch

    Isn't Minnesota

    one of the States where Pi equals 3*?

    *This is not because of the '1 Kings 7:23' molten lake reference. Trigonometry classes in Minnesota cost $14.15 per 100, which will be subtracted from the result.

    1. James O'Shea

      Re: Isn't Minnesota

      Nah, that's Indiana. And it wasn't a religious nut who wanted the change. (He was nuts, just not religious.) <>

      1. JMB

        Re: Isn't Minnesota

        Are Gideon Bibles left in hotel rooms classed as illegal free religious education and presumably churches will have to charge as well in the state.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Isn't Minnesota

      MN is actually toward the top of the list from an educational perspective. Blue state as well.

    3. Dana W

      Re: Isn't Minnesota

      No its not, we are a Blue state. One of the ones where you can laugh at religious nutters without your house being burned down.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Isn't Minnesota

        Sure, you can laugh at the religious nutters but don't dare say an unkind word about unions unless you want to move into Jimmy Hoffa's current residence.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Isn't Minnesota

      It's not Pi, it's tau! ;)

  4. Rob 5

    It's Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy

    ... in action. Again.

  5. James O'Shea

    Exactly how are they intending to enforce this?

    Are they going to have all state residents install software to see which IPs they go to? No money changes hands. No degrees or certificates are offered. How will they even know if this happens, other than by having some state employee log in, and I'm pretty sure that there will be oodles of lawyers just falling over themselves to put up an 'entrapment' defence.

    1. andreas koch

      Re: Exactly how are they intending to enforce this?

      Just like British MP Claire Perry wants to take the porn off the 'net:

      Say that you want it done ---> {some magic happens} ---> it's done.

      Government people live in a 'Veruca Salt universe', they don't understand that some things couldn't possibly go their way.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Exactly how are they intending to enforce this?

      They are going to introduce IQ tests when you get your driving license.

      Anyone that scores over the average has obviosuly been reading books and will be punished.

      Ironically Mn is in the middle of a row with telcos about it's plan to install $35M of public fibre to attract high tech business to the area - so long as none of those attracted had done any of that-there book-learning outside the state presumably.

  6. Mad Chaz

    I'd just go with an intent of the law defence.

    "Your honor, the lawmakers obviously made this law to prevent people from getting swindled out of money by diploma mills that offer worthless accreditation.

    We offer courses built by extremely reputable Universities from around the world, our courses are free and the only thing you get out of it is knowledge, no diploma or accreditation. Where did we go against the law exactly?"

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      I think you are confusing obvious common sense with the law.

      If you did this you would be immediately fined and probably imprisoned because they aren't qualified to appear before the bar in that state.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

    What? Allow free education for anyone? Including iiiiii-illegals?

    I think this play came out of one of Mitt Romney's binders!

    What a stupid thing to do. Free education from quality schools is a great concept, and it's just perfect for the Internet. Britain's been doing it for years and it's worked really well there. The US must support the Coursera approach. It's the only way to expand our education system to disadvantaged people who can't afford university tuition anymore.

    1. Jdoe1

      Re: Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

      You got your parties mixed up. The teachers in public labor unions are democrats. And it would be Obama approving this.

      1. Notas Badoff

        Re: Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

        @Jdoe1: Law is over 20 years old. Written to protect students from getting fleeced by the underhanded and disreputable. Why do _you_ feel so angry at that?

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

          A not very exceptional example of unintended consequences, perhaps. A better way to accomplish the apparent intent might be to legislate that educational debts to unregistered schools would not be enforceable in Minnesota courts. I don;t really believe that would solve the problem, but it would, at least, eliminate harassment of the likes of Coursera while limiting somewhat the fraudulent "schools."

    2. mikeyt

      Re: Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

      nope, democrat and current governor voted against iraq war in 2002!

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

      > Allow free education for anyone?

      Generally it's Democrats that are against non-standard education - the teachers union is about as powerful as the NUM used to be in the UK.

      In general anything stupid being done "for the good of the common people" is democrat, anything stupid being done "for competitiveness, growth and prosperity" is republican.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

        So why is it they always put a deranged chimpanzee in charge?

        1. Dana W

          Re: Must be Republicans running Minnesota!

          Says the disgruntled Republican.

  8. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Keep the guild structure intact? Sure we can!

    Yet another reason for libertarianism.

    I have come to the conclusion that anyone not for libertarianism is basically hoping for someone to fuck things up for him [probably because he assumes that he is to dumb lick the sweat off the toes of hallowed, knowledgeable bureaucrats] while getting taxed for the privilege. Once that has happened, he will call for more "progressivist policy" because all that fucking up has to be stopped somehow - with more bureaucracy.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    I like it when dumb fuckness proves a point.

    Having spent a whole week refusing to buckle to beaurocracy, where the sending of a product, and the paying for the postage, to myself, with a name and address, that had a few typo's - but it was evidently me, resulted in an all in national brawl with Australia Post......

    "Noooooo I have the receipts, and the tracking numbers - and Noooooo I am not going to have the package sit there for 10 days, and then be returned, and to then rearrange for the resend with the few minor corrections of the "typo mistakes and a slight misspelling" in the name and address followed by a repayment - Noooooo I won't go along with that - because it's MY package, I paid for it, I paid for the postage and I want you to release it to me - please make the phone call."

    Same bullshit...........

    I want to see the reporting NAME the dumb fuck who made the decision, so the accountability for being a fuckwit, goes beyond the mere stating of, "The Minnesota Government said".

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Even more educational than before...

    "Nonetheless, Coursera has responded to Minnesota's demands by adding a new clause to its Terms: 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."

    Teaches dishonesty!

  11. JaitcH
    Thumb Down

    If the servers are outside Minnesota ...

    it likely becomes inter-State commerce and that falls in to Obamarama's bailiwick - under federal law.

    Sad commentary on 'free' enterprise, especially onsidering the governor is a Democrat.

    1. unitron

      Re: If the servers are outside Minnesota ...

      If it's Interstate Commerce, then Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 puts it under the jurisdiction of the Congress of the United States.

      They get to legislate some dog's dinner and the Executive Branch gets stuck with having to try to carry it out.

  12. ObSolutions, Inc
    Thumb Up

    Thank you MN

    You actions have made me aware of Coursera. Now, off to do some learning...

  13. The Axe

    Land of the regulated free

    For a country that prides itself on being of the free, it has more regulations than many other countries. Not all are state or federal regulations but they do go to extremes. You need a license to practise as a hairdresser for black people, you can't mow your lawn on a sunday, you must pay for years of training to be able to sell food, etc.

    All rules and regulations are hardly ever for the benfit of the consumer. They are mostly protectionism for entrenched businesses to stop new entrants. Or they are over the top bad laws for hard cases. Or they are the result of polticians having to do something, anything to be seen to be in control.

    Humans survived for millenia without much in terms of regulations and laws. In fact they thrived. We need less regulations and laws, not more. People can run their own lives, they don't need politicians and the state to tell them when to sneeze or wipe their bum (or even how to wipe their bum - seriously!).

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Land of the regulated free

      " must pay for years of training to be able to sell food.....Humans survived for millenia without much in terms of regulations and laws....." Yeah, lots of people also used to dsuffer from food-related diseases such as gatroentiritis and septicemia casued by bacterium like lysteria and salmonella and the like before food regulatiosn were introduced. In the Third World, lots of people still do. Take of your tinfoil blinkers and you might realise there are some very good reasosn behind most laws and regulations.

  14. Velv Silver badge

    They could always get a partner in another country to offer the courses to Minnesota residents.




    ooops, maybe the law isn't entirely daft, especially if Minnesota is following the spirit of the law instead of the letter

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't this states top claim to fame something about...

    Now it's been a while but these proud residents claim to have the largest ball of twine anywhere in the 50 states... at least that's what the song says :)

  16. JaitcH

    El Reg does it again!

    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.

    1. Oninoshiko

      Re: El Reg does it again!

      So Mr. Pogemiller is encouraging Minnesotans to violate Coursera's TOS?

  17. unitron

    Easy solution

    They should just add some boilerplate to the website that says it's offered in Minnesota for entertainment purposes only.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What programming language will be used?

    Processing, which is a dialect of Java that is one of the most popular programming languages among creative programmers.

    --20 years in the field and I'd never heard of it...

  19. Rambler88

    Strange. Probably is just a garden-variety bureaucratic glitch that's been journalized out of proportion. This really isn't the way things typically work here in Minnesota--if something like this crops up, they often do sort it out pretty quickly, as they seem in fact to be doing with this. (And as they did with the hair-braiding licenses.)

    There are exceptions, of course. Bureaucratic insanity that favored established healthcare, pre-college education, or social welfare interests would probably be untouchable. But incredible as it sounds, even the people who collect taxes here are a pleasure to deal with.

    I'm not just defending my home state, by the way. I moved here from New York f-----g City, my hometown, ten years ago.

    Geography lesson for Europeans: The USA consists of 50 states, and state laws and general legal environments vary widely. The states have a status somewhere between that of German Länder and EU member states. There is a solid correlation between the extremes of regulatory insanity and Democratic party rule. The corruptibility of state legislatures is an axiom of American politics, but the degree of corruptibility varies widely.

  20. wayne 8 Bronze badge

    Minnesota, home of non-free on line Capella Uni

    Just saying, maybe a coincidence, yeah, coinkydink for sure.

    Capella University

    Capella Tower

    225 South 6th Street, 9th Floor

    Minneapolis, MN 55402

    BA, Accounting

    Total program:

    180 quarter credits

    Tuition Per:

    1000-2000 Level Credit: $290

    3000-4000 Level Credit: $350

  21. crediblywitless

    Gopher, revisited?

    Slightly spookily, UMinn's attempt to collect licensing fees for Gopher helped to give us WWW. So, really, is Minnesota just driving technological development in the same way here?

  22. InnerCynic

    Never fails

    Leave it to the State, any state, to smother anything that threatens it's monopoly on education. To hell with them. I say move your operations outside of the country and tell them to get stuffed.

  23. Nameless Faceless Computer User

    This is a throw-back to laws which made it illegal for slaves to learn to read. Now they're coming for the rest of us. What's next? Book burnings?

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