Marginal Revolution University has been Banned in Minnesota!

by on October 19, 2012 at 10:58 am in Economics, Law, Web/Tech | Permalink

Minnesota has banned MRUniversity and other online education services from providing content to Minnesota residents. This seems like a joke but it is not from The Onion. Coursera, one of the larger players in this field, has rewritten its terms of service to prohibit Minnesota residents from taking its courses:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

Tyler and I wish to be perfectly clear: unlike Coursera, we will not shut down MRU to the residents of Minnesota. We are prepared to defend our rights under the First Amendment to teach the good people of Minnesota all about the Solow Model, water policy in Africa, and the economics of garlic–even if we have to do so from a Minnesota jail!

ricardo October 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

Amen.

Supporter October 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

+1

Jason Kuznicki October 19, 2012 at 11:03 am

Wouldn’t want anyone learning anything without permission.

BeeKay October 19, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Or learning without money going to cronies :)

TexasMom2012 October 19, 2012 at 11:02 pm

DOH, it is all about the boodle!

TexasMom2012 October 19, 2012 at 11:05 pm

Plus, HELLO, ice and snow! Wouldn’t want to allow people to get knowledge when they are snowed in, LOL. Very silly. Protectionist garbage.

Rent-Seekers October 19, 2012 at 11:04 am

score one for us!!! you betcha! :).

mobile October 19, 2012 at 11:04 am

Free the MRU 2 !

MN Resident October 19, 2012 at 11:12 am

As a MN resident I’m now obligated to start taking as much free online education as I can. Might as well start with you guys.

Go Kings, Go! October 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Easy for you, Minnesota has “decriminalized” online education: Only the supplier, not the user, is a criminal. Good enough legal system for pot, good enough for teaching Stakeholder Value Theory.

Alex K. October 19, 2012 at 11:13 am

This is actually a PR gift for online learning from the state of Minnesota.

If Minnesota ever tries to enforce the law, MR University would get tons of free publicity.

Peter Metrinko October 19, 2012 at 11:14 am

Next they’ll be requiring nutritional labels on church hot dishes.

DocMerlin October 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm

New York City already does that.

Andrew' October 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

We’ll airdrop it in if we have to.

Abe Froman October 19, 2012 at 11:24 am

Isn’t this like the Bat-Signal to the Institute for Justice?

John Thacker October 19, 2012 at 11:26 am

Pretty much what I thought immediately, oh Sausage King of Chicago.

Mike Lorenz October 19, 2012 at 11:27 am

Let us know when/where to donate to the defense fund. On your first day in prison, pick a fight with the biggest, baddest Keynesian,…

rmv October 19, 2012 at 11:38 am

+eleventy-million

john October 19, 2012 at 11:40 am

The stupidest thing is that it’s not necessary to read the MN law in this way. The law requires degree-granting institutions that want to offer courses remotely to register with the state.

It is perfectly reasonable to interpret this to mean “degree-granting institutions that offer remote courses that count toward a degree.” This would address the purported diploma-mill problem without preventing most free courses from being offered without registration.

TuringTest October 19, 2012 at 11:50 am

John’s reading of the Minn. statute is far more plausible and reasonable than Tyler’s (and Coursera’s) strained reading: anyone in Minn. can watch these online classes but colleges can’t (without permission) allow such superficial online classes to count toward a degree

john October 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

Unfortunately, based on the reporting I’ve read the strained reading appears to be shared by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. However, I expect that the office will “clarify” that the law only applies to “degree courses.”

rmv October 19, 2012 at 12:01 pm

http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/minnesota-gives-coursera-the-boot-citing-a-decades-old-law/40542

“Daphne Koller, a co-founder of Coursera, said she was surprised to receive the letter from Minnesota in July. “The law’s focus is on degree-granting programs as opposed to free, open courseware,” she said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s not clear why they extended it to us.””

Strained reading, indeed.

Bill October 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Agree with John’s reading of the statute as well, because otherwise it has overbreadth/First amendment problems.

Brian Donohue October 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Killjoys! Tyler and Alex: Fugitive Gonzo Academics!

This thing could have some legs.

IVV October 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm

As long as it involves tense chase scenes, exotic international destinations, Tyler’s refined palate amidst exotic food, a feel-good tale about young Minnesotans learning about life and economics, and graphical representations of agricultural resource management, this would be awesome.

It’s A Beautiful Mind meets James Bond meets Fargo. Self-recommending.

albatross October 19, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I’m looking forward to Tyler’s upcoming book on how to get a good meal in prison.

Andrew' October 19, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Plenty of lives have been destroyed by the government misreading its own laws.

Andrew' October 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm

And they really will f— your s— up, so be prepared for the courts. The price of doing something real.

Meegs October 19, 2012 at 11:44 am

Should we suggest some good restaurants in Minnesota?

Muddy October 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm

Ha

Trespassers W October 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

In a Minnesota jail, you get hotdish three times a day. It’ll be a special learning experience for Tyler.

jj October 19, 2012 at 11:52 am

… and a new course for MRU – on how to survive jail.

Rahul October 19, 2012 at 3:51 pm

We are prepared to defend our rights under the First Amendment to teach the good people of Minnesota all about the Solow Model, water policy in Africa, and the economics of garlic–even if we have to do so from a Minnesota jail!

They let you take your i-Pads into MN jails?

Alex October 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

No hotdish, lutefisk!

Rahul October 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Or headcheese.

Aaron October 19, 2012 at 11:53 am

Good signs: The people in Minnesota jails don’t look very happy, and there aren’t many attractive women there.

Salem October 19, 2012 at 11:56 am

+1

tasteful October 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Excellent.

rationalist October 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Self-recommending

Derek October 19, 2012 at 3:01 pm

… but don’t order the worst-looking dish on the menu.

Silas Barta October 19, 2012 at 4:51 pm

[x for x in marginal_revolution_memes][2:]

Sorry, been doing a lot of python.

Brian Donohue October 19, 2012 at 4:56 pm

+2. very funny.

Ricardo October 20, 2012 at 10:38 am

I bet Tyler laughed too.

Arthur October 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Thank you for doing the right thing.

Dave E October 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Here in Oregon some years ago the state board of engineering went after a couple of women who touted their house cleaning service as ‘Domestic Engineering’. Same dim-witted nonsense.

I’d guess the Minnesota law was intended to suppress fly-by-night degree mills and is now being used to protect state-run institutions of higher learning. You’ve got a lot of nerve giving education away for free! Dirty capitalists!

Reuven October 20, 2012 at 3:59 pm

You have to be a licensed engineer to advertise yourself as an “Engineer” in most states. As a licensed P.E., I am offended every time I see a computer programmer call himself and Engineer. I wish my state was as diligent about enforcing the law as Minnesota is.

Mogden October 19, 2012 at 12:04 pm

God forbid anyone should wish to transmit an idea without government imprimatur. It might be a dangerous one.

Ted Sampsell-Jones October 19, 2012 at 12:18 pm

If this ever really happens, and you need pro bono legal representation in MN, please let me know.

prior_approval October 19, 2012 at 12:21 pm

‘we will not shut down MRU to the residents of Minnesota’

Unless they are are under the age of 18 – http://mruniversity.com/terms-of-use

But that was true before the ban, so no harm in banning high schools students in Minnesotta, no foul, right?

benjammin October 19, 2012 at 12:24 pm

yeesh, someone under 18 can use MRU if they have parental consent. seems pretty boilerplate for providing services to a minor. But I always appreciate your stone-throwing.

Cliff October 19, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Huh??

jj October 19, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Some people just keep trolling.

joeftansey October 19, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Wait, MRU legally counts as a “University”?

Richard October 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm

That’s the question – see the comments on “strained reading” above. MRU isn’t *really* a university, but the Minnesota officials are acting like it is covered.

Cliff Styles October 19, 2012 at 12:40 pm

The market for coercion manufactures fools.

delirious October 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

I guess the real excitement will be when GMU calls off the party

Biomed Tim October 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I will happily contribute to a defense fund should this escalate to litigation.

Kudos to you guys for standing up.

Nick L October 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Bullshit!

RPLong October 19, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Tyler and I wish to be perfectly clear: unlike Coursera, we will not shut down MRU to the residents of Minnesota. We are prepared to defend our rights under the First Amendment to teach the good people of Minnesota all about the Solow Model, water policy in Africa, and the economics of garlic–even if we have to do so from a Minnesota jail!

If you are serious, you are heroes.

Sincerely, thank you.

DocMerlin October 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Ditto.

happyjuggler0 October 19, 2012 at 1:36 pm
LemmusLemmus October 19, 2012 at 1:56 pm

From Slate:

Update, Oct. 19, 10:58 a.m.: George Roedler, manager of institutional registration and licensing at the Minnesota Office of Higher education, clarifies that his office’s issue isn’t with Coursera per se, but with the universities that offer classes through its website. State law prohibits degree-granting institutions from offering instruction in Minnesota without obtaining permission from the office and paying a registration fee. (The fee can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, plus a $1,200 annual renewal.) That means that it’s Stanford, Columbia, Michigan, the University of Melbourne, et al. that are violating Minnesota law by partnering with Coursera to offer courses that Minnesota residents can take for free.

“It’s not like we’re sending the police out if somebody signs up online,” Roedler adds. “It’s just that the school is operating contrary to state law.”
The law’s intent is to protect Minnesota students from wasting their money on degrees from substandard institutions, Roedler says. As such, he suspects that Coursera’s partner institutions would have little trouble obtaining the registration. He says he had hoped to work with Coursera to achieve that, and was surprised when they responded with the terms-of-service change notifying Minnesota residents of the law.

The thing is, no one is wasting their money on Coursera courses, because they’re free. (Yes, says Roedler, but they could still be wasting their time.) And again, while its partners are degree-granting institutions, no one is getting a Stanford degree by taking a class or two on Coursera. At most, some classes offer a “certificate of completion.” If every government took Minnesota’s approach, free online education probably wouldn’t exist, because the cost of compliance and registration in all 50 states, let alone other countries, would be prohibitive. Here’s hoping that common sense prevails.

URL: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/10/18/minnesota_bans_coursera_state_takes_bold_stand_against_free_education.html

Alex K. October 19, 2012 at 3:49 pm

“State law prohibits degree-granting institutions from offering instruction in Minnesota without obtaining permission from the office and paying a registration fee. (The fee can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand, plus a $1,200 annual renewal.) ”

So it’s just an money grabbing attempt by Minnesota.

A bit like the mafia protection money.

Andrew' October 19, 2012 at 4:23 pm

So, it only takes $1200 to be a standard institution.

That’s cheaper than a couple open source fee-for-publication journals.

john personna October 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

“He says he had hoped to work with Coursera to achieve that, and was surprised when they responded with the terms-of-service change notifying Minnesota residents of the law.” – Guy’s been living in a hole. One without wifi.

Charles Rowley October 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I am sure that the Communist Party of China has banned MRUniversity. They have the mechanisms and the will so to do. Minnesota may have the mechanisms, but dare not deploy them! Another four years of Obama and that will no longer hold. So make ice in Minnesota while you can!

Brock October 19, 2012 at 2:11 pm

So is this “Minnesota University teachers use lobby leverage to protect a local monopoly”, or “Minnesota bureaucrats try to extort registration fees from online service providers”?

Probably both.

Does Amazon have to register as a retailer in Minnesota, or anywhere else? Does Google have to pay a Search Engine Registration Fee in each state it offers its Search services in? (And really, why shouldn’t they? Surely the people need a regulator to protect them from bad search engines)

(That last part was sarcasm)

Gimlet October 19, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I’m guessing that MRU can use the “Amazon Defense” that Minnesota lacks jurisdiction to enforce its laws because MRU lacks the required nexus with Minnesota.

Mark Robertson October 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm

You’ve offended some very stupid person somehow. And we know they exist in Minnesota, after all this the state with Michelle Bachmann as a senator. I support your stance even if I cannot support you financially in any way as an unemployed person. Fight them to the death, and make sure you get lots of publicity

Salem October 19, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Michele Bachmann is not a Senator, for Minnesota or anywhere else.

Brian Donohue October 19, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Correction. Al Franken.

NAMEREDACTED October 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm

The same person who believes that Michelle Bachmann is a senator is mad at “stupid people.”

Becky Hargrove October 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Oh my! They don’t know who they’re ‘messin’ with! This is really interesting.

Dredd October 19, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Good for you MRU! Stand up for our rights.

Tony Boyles (@AABoyles) October 19, 2012 at 3:15 pm

If it’s illegal in some states, you must be doing it right.

Collin October 19, 2012 at 3:23 pm

MR fights the power! While you at it, fight against laws that ban grocery stores from being allowed to sell alcohol on Sunday!

Silas Barta October 19, 2012 at 4:40 pm

We are prepared to defend our rights under the First Amendment to teach the good people of Minnesota all about the Solow Model, water policy in Africa, and the economics of garlic–even if we have to do so from a Minnesota jail!

Speak for yourself, Alex_Tabarrok. I know Tyler_Cowen isn’t going to eat prison food over this law.

FE October 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Minnesota correctly surmised that MRU would siphon off the brightest and most motivated students, leaving Gopher State taxpayers with the burden of teaching the hardest-to-educate.

paul October 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm

OK, a good rule is to actually look at the statutes:

136A.61 POLICY.

The legislature has found and hereby declares that the availability of legitimate courses and programs leading to academic degrees offered by responsible private not-for-profit and for-profit institutions of postsecondary education and the existence of legitimate private colleges and universities are in the best interests of the people of this state. The legislature has found and declares that the state can provide assistance and protection for persons choosing private institutions and programs, by establishing policies and procedures to assure the authenticity and legitimacy of private postsecondary education institutions and programs. The legislature has also found and declares that this same policy applies to any private and public postsecondary educational institution located in another state or country which offers or makes available to a Minnesota resident any course, program or educational activity which does not require the leaving of the state for its completion.

“Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under , a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so.”

I’m surprised Coursera doesn’t just return the letter. It’s not a post secondary institution. The affiliated institutions are. Can you imagine Minnesota sending a letter to Stanford demanding that it pay an authorization fee and a renewal fee in exchange for being certified as up to their standards?

Alex and Tyler are not an educational institution so they are off the hook.

Saneev Sabhlok October 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm

MR university should tie up with a VPN provider to allow Minnesota residents (just like Chinese residents, I suppose) to pretend they are located in some other US state. Printed certificates of completion can be smuggled in to the residents through secret service couriers.

Willitts October 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

What do you expect from the only state to go for Mondale?

Paul October 19, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Alex and Tyler could set up a branch office there. Call it Moose Lake U. To launder all the courses from such sketchy institutions as Stanford, Harvard, MIT,… If otherwise each had to pay a a $1,200 annual renewal fee for the privilege of offering Minnesota residents free courses…

Sisyphus October 19, 2012 at 7:10 pm

I look forward to reading Alex’s “Blog Post from a Hennepin County Jail.” Tyler will, of course, go on a hunger strike.

Richard W. Roll October 20, 2012 at 6:03 am

I guess I’ll just have to break the law.

Paul Godfread October 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm
Robert October 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm

My online university, Anal Roberts University http://www.analroberts.com/ never received a notice from the state of Minnesota! I guess there’s some bias against Economists there.

zbicyclist October 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm

“We are prepared to defend our rights…–even if we have to do so from a Minnesota jail!”

Virtual Minnesota state prison tours here: http://www.doc.state.mn.us/aboutdoc/tour/default.htm

Given the slow pace of the criminal justice system, maybe this is where you should start:
seniors / geriatric unit here: http://www.doc.state.mn.us/aboutdoc/tour/ipix/frbsenior.htm

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