Closing Open Ed with State Authorization Rules

State seal of Minnesota
State seal of Minnesota (Wikipedia)

The Chronicle of Higher Ed reported on Minnestota’s state authorization rules for distance ed that we in the California Community College’s Distance Education Coordinator’s group have been wrestling with as well. The state of Minnesota has told Coursera that they cannot offer free online classes in their state without authorization. I am glad this has happened because I am hoping that this will bring attention to a very complex problem that is not going to just come from Minnesota. Each state has its own state authorization rules for distance education. Getting authorized in some states can mean merely filing a piece of paper, in some states, it can cost a lot. There are serious questions about this that need to be addressed at the federal level:

  1. Freedom of speech – If someone wants to read and interact with others for free and not for college credit, what business is that of the state’s?
  2. Commerce clause – Shouldn’t the federal government step up to the plate on this just as they have done with other industries like health insurance?
  3. Selective enforcement issues – Why choose Coursera? Has Minnesota sent cease and desist letters to other other open colleges? What about religious colleges?

The federal government has already taken the step to say that they will not enforce state authorization. They need to go the extra mile create legislation to ensure everyone’s access to education.  There should be federal guidelines for distance ed to prevent the capricious nature of these rules.

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