Academic dishonesty on the rise

Travis Reed

Students who thought they noticed answer-searching classmates peering over their shoulders during midterms recently might not have imagined things.
According to researchers at Rutgers and Columbia universities, the percentage of students who cheat at colleges and universities has increased significantly since 1963.
Recent events at the University, namely, last spring’s academic fraud scandal involving the men’s basketball team, suggest a similar increase here. A former tutor admitted in March she wrote 400 academic papers for members of the men’s basketball team.
“Cheating is now ubiquitous in the United States and overseas,” said Harold Noah of the Teachers College at Columbia University. “The competitive pressure on every actor in education, from the school systems to the universities, fuels this growing misconduct.”
Donald McCabe, a professor of organization management at Rutgers, has conducted ongoing research into academic dishonesty, backing up Noah’s opinion.
In a survey of nine medium-to-large sized universities, McCabe found that the number of students who reported instances of self-cheating rose from 39 percent in 1963 to 64 percent in 1993.
McCabe said the increase illustrates a shift in society’s ethical framework.
“It’s no longer as great a stigma to be a cheater,” he said. “When students talk about ways to justify their cheating, they talk about it in terms of social values.”
Although McCabe’s research does not specifically include surveys from University students, he indicated that the results were applicable to all comparably sized universities.
“In a general way, one can apply the research to the University,” he said. “It would be valuable to use the reports to look at things in policy that may need revamping.”
University officials say they are concerned about cheating and have developed a task force to study the prevalence of cheating.
Officials say that, while they cannot prevent academic fraud, recent revelations have opened their eyes to the reality of scholastic misconduct at the University.
“It’s an issue that the University takes very seriously,” said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education. “Unfortunately, right now we don’t have any good baseline data.”
Swan said he didn’t believe the University differed from other institutions in instances of academic misconduct, adding that students might be cheating because of high expectations.
“There are a lot of pressures on students today,” he said. “Strong data shows that a college degree makes a big difference in one’s income, and the stresses of getting into college and into the right graduate program may cause students to contemplate cheating.”
While pressure to succeed might compel some students to cheat their way to success, scholars also attribute the reported cheating increase to the emergence of the Internet as an easy solution for students who need to write a term paper on a short deadline.
“As far as tests go, I’ve glanced at other people’s papers for a few answers, but I’ve never copied everything that someone had,” said one University undergraduate who preferred to be unnamed.
The student, like many scholars, also indicated that the Internet makes plagiarism easier. With such a massive amount of information, the student explained, it is unlikely that a professor could track down the source.
“Having information readily available at your fingertips that neither your teacher or classmates have read gives you an advantage,” the student said.
Because researchers have not devised a comprehensive solution to the problem of academic misconduct, McCabe recommends college officials reinstate honor codes that were prevalent at schools in the 1960s.
Less than one in 14 students surveyed at campuses with honor codes reported incidents of cheating, according to McCabe’s research.
“This would serve both the number of students cheating — because they think they must to stay even –and the increasing number of students who would like to see the universities do something about cheating,” McCabe said. “Students would like to feel like they’re trusted.”
To address cheating, University administration recently approved a state education policy mandating instructors address grading standards and academic dishonesty in course syllabi. The policy also includes consequences for students who commit academic dishonesty.

Travis Reed welcomes comments at [email protected]