For one day, Minnesota's Office of Higher Education felt the Internet's indignation as word spread that it was cracking down on free online college courses offered through Coursera and other websites. The bizarre bureaucratic decision was first reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education on Thursday morning, and it became Internet-wide news after my blog post about it Thursday evening went viral, thanks in part to the user-generated news board Reddit.
I've just gotten word that the state has reconsidered its stance. Here's the new statement from Larry Pogemiller, director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education:
Obviously, our office encourages lifelong learning and wants Minnesotans to take advantage of educational materials available on the Internet, particularly if they’re free. No Minnesotan should hesitate to take advantage of free, online offerings from Coursera.
He added that the 20-year-old statute in question clearly didn't envision free online classes from accredited universities:
When the legislature convenes in January, my intent is to work with the Governor and Legislature to appropriately update the statute to meet modern-day circumstances. Until that time, I see no reason for our office to require registration of free, not-for-credit offerings.
In my original post, I wrote that Minnesota should win a grand prize for "most creative use of government to stifle innovation." It's only fair now that I also give it, if not a grand prize, at least an honorable mention for government responsiveness in the face of a backlash.