People’s Republic of Maryland to quash online education competition

People’s Republic of Maryland to quash online education competition

Proof image, Maryland commemorative U.S. quarter.
Proof image, Maryland commemorative U.S. quarter. Is the "Old Line State" now the "Old Crony State?" (Image via Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2014 – This report just in from “The American Interest:”

Maryland has decided to stand athwart the [I]nternet, 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.

The publication refers readers to an article in another publication, “Inside Higher Ed,” which details Maryland’s latest anti-competitive, rent-seeking charade:

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.

But wait. There’s more.

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.’

“American Interest” also notes that Maryland requires outside online educational programs to “undergo a lengthy accreditation review process, and now it seems to be vying for the title of least hospitable state in the union.” And they introduce a parenthetical kicker.

(Meanwhile, the Department of Education [ED] is pursuing its plan to reinstate the requirement that distance education programs obtain accreditation in all states where they do business.)

“Inside Higher Ed” provides the specifics.

As part of [ED’s latest proposed] rules, [online] institutions would have to seek out authorization from every state they wish to operate in, which means complying with 50 sets of different regulations and paying 50 registration fees.

And have no doubt about it—the fees involved here are onerous, likely eliminating smaller institutions that can’t afford them, as documented in this same article. In Maryland, institutions that want to play must

… 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.

While Maryland’s latest money grabbing gambit is transparently related to ED’s ongoing campaign against for-profit online educational institutions, we’d also note that it apparently applies to other nonprofit state and private colleges and universities as well, many of which are looking at a bleak future for traditional, on-campus academic offerings and implementing online strategies now rather than later.

Closer to home, however, “American Interest” cites an additional fun fact from “Inside Higher Ed.”

The motives behind Maryland’s new restrictions couldn’t be clearer … 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.

This is yet another odd yet clear example of how Democrat-supported crony capitalism has permeated all aspects of American culture, this time by means of domestic protectionism. Since UMUC has apparently failed to successfully adapt a portion of its program to compete in the online educational environment, they’ve decided to protect their own by either eliminating the competition or subjecting it to such onerous requirements as to force them to abandon their efforts within the state which, not coincidentally, is among the Bluest of the Blue.

Operating under the usual and often phony umbrella of “standards,” both ED’s and Maryland’s efforts to stifle academic competition are morally and likely legally wrong for the following reasons:

  1. Both Maryland and ED seek to protect traditional, campus-based higher education against encroachment by demonstrably lower cost institutions, robbing new and current college students of an opportunity to obtain a college education without incurring a ruinous level of indebtedness.
  2. If Maryland already accepts the validity of a degree from an out-of-Maryland “University of X State,” why would it challenge the accepted accreditation of such an institution when it comes to U of X State’s online curriculum?
  3. Following from Reason 2, if such is the case, why aren’t both Maryland’s and ED’s clear obstructionism not a violation of the interstate commerce clause?
  4. Further, why is Maryland’s latest exercise in cronyism and anti-competition not a violation of a Maryland student’s absolute right to choose his or her own college or university? If a Maryland student can, say, cross the state border and attend Virginia Tech, what’s the difference if he or she stays at home and studies at Virginia Tech via an online course if it saves money, stress and time? In other words, what right does Maryland have to restrict the educational choices of its own students?

Maryland is not alone in playing this game. “Higher Ed” notes that at least three additional states—Arkansas, Massachusetts and Minnesota—are playing the same likely unconstitutional game.

But what we’re beginning to wonder is this: When is the average American citizen going to rise up against their local, state and Federal government and fight off the efforts of these government entities to limit a citizen’s freedom and choices in order to further the privileges and enrichment of this country’s already controlling but out-of-touch elites. Together, they’re destroying America’s personal and business competitiveness here and abroad in order to further their own power and advantage.

So why should we allow them to continue to get away with it? What’s in it for today’s financially beleaguered college student? And what’s in it for the rest of us?

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17