Cheating, Academic Dishonesty Widespread on Campuses, Survey Reveals

Posted By Terri Williams on February 28, 2017 at 10:53 am
Cheating, Academic Dishonesty Widespread on Campuses, Survey Reveals

College acceptance is the culmination of 12 years of formal preparation. The ability to succeed at this level of education can determine a student’s career trajectory and quality of life. A recent survey by Kessler reveals some students are willing to get ahead by any means necessary, including cheating.

Cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty are prevalent on college and university campuses, according to the survey of students at public and private colleges and universities, including some online schools. Other findings include the following:

  • 86% of students claimed they cheated in some way in school.
  • 54% of students indicated that cheating was OK. Some went so far as to say it is necessary to stay competitive.
  • 97% of the admitted cheaters say that they have never been identified as cheating.
  • 76% of the students copied someone else’s assignments word for word.
  • 79% of the students surveyed admitted to plagiarizing their assignments from the internet or failing to citing the appropriate sources.
  • 72% indicated that they used their phone, tablet or computer to cheat in class.
  • 42% indicated that they purchased custom term papers, essays, and theses online.
  • 28% indicated that they had a service take their online classes for them.
  • Only 12% indicated that they would never cheat because of ethics.

But it doesn’t end there. The surveyed students reported that their teachers also engaged in unethical behavior, including the following:

  • Teachers engaging in sexual relations with students in exchange for grades.
  • Teachers accepting bribes to alter grades.
  • Teachers pressuring students to purchase books that the teachers wrote.
  • Teachers providing answers during exams.
  • Teachers grading exams on a curve to minimize effects of poor performance by students.

Reasons for cheating

Christopher Bauer, PhD, CSP, CFS of Bauer Ethics Seminars, and the author of Better Ethics NOW: How to Avoid the Ethics Disaster You Never Saw Coming, says this is not a new problem, but he believes it’s getting worse. “While there are always many reasons for any kind of trend in ethics problems, I think the roots of this one are primarily in two inter-related areas.”

First, Bauer says both students are teachers are focusing on what’s reinforced. “If achievement (i.e. grades) is reinforced more than is honesty or originality – as is so often the case these days – people will do what they need to do to get good grades or create a good-looking resume.”

Following this logic, teachers may also feel personal and institutional pressure to boost sales of their books.

Fostering a culture of cheating, or “success by any means,” is not a new phenomenon. Professional athletes are notorious for using steroids to remain competitive. Some car manufacturers cheat on emissions tests. Many organizations use “fine print” as a way to wriggle out of commitments. Perhaps that’s why 54% of the surveyed students felt that cheating was OK.

According to Linda K. Treviño, distinguished professor of organizational behavior and ethics in the Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University, a school’s culture can reinforce positive or negative behaviors. “What is the cheating environment at the school? What are the norms? Is ‘everyone’ doing it?  If so, students can easily rationalize that it isn’t a big deal,” she tells GoodCall®. “For example, if there is collusion to cheat in a group (a fraternity or group of international students), it would be difficult to avoid the peer pressure,” Treviño explains.

Besides the reinforcement factor, Bauer tells GoodCall® the second reason college students cheat is the result of a lack of teaching in the area of critical thinking skills. “The result is multi-fold: students are less able to create their own ideas and arguments, and – more to the point here – are less prone to think through either the near or far-term consequences of their inappropriate behavior,” Bauer says.

It’s a view shared by Susan Peterson, COO of Kessler International. Peterson tells GoodCall®, “Students today are ill-equipped to handle the harsh realities of the real world and expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter.”

And while advances in technology have made life better, Peterson says technology has also made it considerably easier for students to cheat in school. Remember: 72% of surveyed students indicated that they used phones, tablets, or computers to cheat in class.

Does integrity stand a chance?

But. if the pervasive culture can foster cheating, can it also foster integrity? Treviño thinks so. “There are environments, such as honor code environments, where it is clear that cheating is serious – where there might be an honor code, for example, where faculty make academic integrity expectations clear and sanctions are clear and enforced.” And in those types of environments, she believes that most students would adapt a different attitude toward cheating.

While cheating in school is a problem in and of itself, this type of behavior can also spill over into the workplace. It’s not a leap of logic to think that cheating students would also exaggerate accomplishments when applying for a job and use the workplace to their personal advantage while cutting corners, shifting blame and pilfering whatever they can get away with.

In fact, Peterson says, “We’ve done studies involving theft of office supplies, theft from office refrigerators, and resume fraud, and found that if someone has a tendency to cheat or steal, they will almost certainly carry that into the workplace.”

While it’s not clear who is to blame for cheating students, “Parents, teachers, and, in fact, society in general, all need to share in the responsibility of emphasizing honesty, integrity, and personal effort over test scores and grades,” Bauer warns.

However, the trend may not be shifting anytime soon. LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner recently warned that the U.S. is too focused on four-year degrees. Also, a recent study reveals that  colleges still rely primarily on test scores to predict college success. Combine these two points with the fact that 97% of the admitted cheaters say that they have never been identified as cheating. Good luck convincing these individuals that cheaters never win and winners never cheat.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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