During this election year’s national conversation about the reach and function of government, it is alarming to see online education subjected to a ridiculous, decades-old policy. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the state of Minnesota views the free online higher education platform Coursera as “operating contrary to state law.”
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education points out that there is a longstanding state law that requires colleges to get the state government’s position to offer instruction within its borders. In an update issued to Slate.com, George Roedler, manager of institutional registration and licensing at the office clarified that it wasn’t like police were being sent out to arrest anyone signing up for Coursera, but that the website has simply not followed the required registration process for universities offering classes.
But you see, Coursera isn’t a college. So why should it have to submit to any kind of registration process with any state’s higher learning office? Coursera is a free online education platform, and should be regarded as any other website. Would Minnesota have a problem with a website offering culinary tips or small business advice? How about Wikipedia? Wikipedia almost exclusively got me through my core subjects at college. Is that off limits to students as well? I’ll bet University of Minnesota students would have a serious problem with that.
Coursera is in the business of offering information and knowledge to anyone interested in signing up, and they’re doing it for free. As Slate writes,
“Hear that, kids? The Internet is no place for learning. You can Facebook and Twitter and play World of Warcraft all you want, but if you want to study Machine Learning, Principles of Macroeconomics, or Modern & Contemporary American Poetry, you’re going to have to take it elsewhere. Maybe you can hit a wifi hotspot in North Dakota on your way back from buying fireworks.”
The most important point to make here is the fact that Coursera does not actually offer a degree. The most you can get out of a Coursera course is a certificate of completion which essentially amounts to a gold star sticker. The point of Coursera is to simply learn new stuff. So why the strong-armed policy against it? And how can a law like this even be enforced?
The answer is that it can’t be enforced. So go ahead and study away, Minnesotans. Sign up for every class you want and do so without hesitation because there is nothing that can stop you from learning. And for that matter, be sure to head over to Udacity and edX as well, just to emphasize the importance of this innovative higher education movement.
In other words, stick it to the man.