Students in Minnesota who want to take a free online course from Princeton or Stanford may have a slightly harder time now. The state’s Office of Higher Education recently informed Massive Open Online Course provider Coursera that offering classes to Minnesota residents without state authorization is a violation of the law.
Although it is currently unclear how the State of Minnesota could enforce the law or prevent students from accessing Coursera’s free content, the company has updated its Terms of Service agreement. The click-through document now warns students in the Gopher State that they agree that they will either not participate in classes on Coursera or that all the work for the classes they take will be done outside of Minnesota’s territorial borders.
While authorization laws are not new, Minnesota’s law has been on the books for 20 years and is widely considered one of the most stringent in the U.S. A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Education to cease enforcing certain federal authorization rules brought state level laws back to national attention.
The Department of Education’s decision came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reaffirmed a lower court’s decision which voided a 2010 Federal regulation mandating that colleges with online degrees receive authorization from every state they operate in—a requirement schools and industry groups claimed would create undue financial and regulatory hardship.
The lack of a comprehensive nationwide authorization system, coupled with the wildly divergent, patchwork nature of local and regional authorization requirements have been two of the factors slowing the growth of online education. The Council of State Governments and the distance education group the President’s Forum began developing ways to streamline the state authorization process.
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