There’s a Little Less to Explore in Minnesota

The internet lit up today when it became known that the state of Minnesota has a law on the books outlawing online education courses.  Evidently, the state decided to send off a letter notifying the rampant lawbreaker, Coursera:

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the state has decided to crack down on free education, notifying California-based startup Coursera that it is not allowed to offer its online courses to the state’s residents.

Alert reader “Mr. C” alerted me to this as an example of “rent seeking,” whereby the purveyor of market power erects a barrier to entry as a means to maintain its preferred status.  I wouldn’t really call this rent seeking in the conventional sense, as the state itself is simply kicking online providers in the teeth.  The state itself runs several non-online operations.  It would be rent seeking if one of the many fine private institutions went to the state to enforce the policy.

As for the policy itself, Slate online has a comical clarification.

It later was clarified that online education was okay, but the provider had to register with the state, and have its registration renewed annually.

So, what is the rationale for this?

George Roedler, manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher education, clarifies that his office’s issue isn’t with Coursera per se, but with the universities that offer classes through its website. State law prohibits degree-granting institutions from offering instruction in Minnesota without obtaining permission from the office and paying a registration fee…

The law’s intent is to protect Minnesota students from wasting their money on degrees from substandard institutions, Roedler says. As such, he suspects that Coursera’s partner institutions would have little trouble obtaining the registration. He says he had hoped to work with Coursera to achieve that, and was surprised when they responded with the terms-of-service change notifying Minnesota residents of the law.

The thing is, no one is wasting their money on Coursera courses, because they’re free. (Yes, says Roedler, but they could still be wasting their time.)

So the state is in the business of protecting its citizenry from wasting its time.

Unfortunately for its denizens prone to taking unlicensed and potentially time-wasting courses, within a day of the initial report the state capitulated and will allow Coursera to “operate without a license.”

The end must be nigh.