Maryland has decided to stand athwart the internet, yelling “Stop!” The Maryland Higher Education Commission recently sent letters to numerous institutions across the country that offer online courses, demanding that they pay registration fees for the Maryland residents enrolled in them. However, there is no data available on how many are enrolled in online programs, or which programs they attend. As Inside Higher Ed reports:
After explaining how Maryland regulates out-of-state providers, the letter presents them with three options: Confirm that the institution enrolls students in Maryland, then pay an annual registration fee of $1,000 and a bond valued at five times the average cost of tuition; confirm that the institution is interested in enrolling students in Maryland, and pay the same fee; or decline any interest in enrolling students in Maryland, thereby barring those students from enrolling altogether. […]According to the letter, recipients have until April 25 to respond—even if they don’t enroll students in Maryland. [One] provost therefore described the letter as “the most aggressive attempt to date by any state government to enforce state authorization.”
On top of this, Maryland requires that online education programs undergo a lengthy accreditation review process, and now it seems to be vying for the title of least hospitable state in the union. (Meanwhile, the Department of Education is pursuing its plan to reinstate the requirement that distance education programs obtain accreditation in all states where they do business.)The motives behind Maryland’s new restrictions couldn’t be clearer, according to Inside Higher Ed. The state wants to stifle programs that compete with the online programs offered by the University of Maryland University College. UMUC has already seen layoffs this year due to declining enrollment. With more than 34,000 students, it is an asset that the state will fight to defend.The protectionism on display here is distasteful enough, but worse yet, the new regulations will fall hardest on those who already face steep obstacles to higher education. Plenty of young people could benefit greatly from cheap, accessible, and innovative online programs. States should embrace such programs wherever they originate, rather than scramble to secure home field advantage. Once again, a state has put the security of its employees before the interests of its students.