One of the marvelous things about the Internet is that it allows people to take courses anywhere anytime. While the Internet may give us that capability, the reality is that there are other issues that come into play. No, I am not talking about lack of Internet access or lack of infrastructure or resistance from instructors. I am referring to state laws and requirements about what can be taught in their state and how it can be taught.
A recent story on Planet Money at NPR brought this issue to light. In Warning to Minnesota Residents: Don’t Take Stanford Profs’ Free, Online Courses, Jacob Goldstein wrote about Coursera’s caveat to Minnesota residents that they cannot take the company’s free online classes except under very specific conditions, one of which is to complete most of the course outside of Minnesota. A state department official said that part of the rationale for this 20-year-old law was to serve a consumer protection function for students. In a response the day after this story appeared, the director of Minnesota’s Office of Higher Education said that the law obviously needs to be updated so that Minnesotans can take advantage of such free opportunities for lifelong learning.
One reason this piece caught my eye was that we have recently run into some related situations. Our graduate programs are going more and more online, and in order to increase enrollment, we want to go outside the state boundaries. However, it turns out that we have agreements with certain states and not with others. Recently we have had to turn away potential students from states with whom we don’t have agreements. I was surprised to learn that some states even require hefty (up to $1,000) fees to register your online course/program in their state.
It seems that possibilities offered by ever-changing technology are often hampered by challenges that are two steps behind where the technology is. Maybe the pace will never be equal, and maybe that’s not a bad thing altogether. It keeps everyone on their toes.
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