Why College Students Cheat
David Replogle - The Real College Guide
Why College Students Cheat
On my honor, I have neither given nor received aid on this examination
This is the honor code of my college, University of Virginia, and what I’m required to scribble after every test. A student convicted of violating the code can be removed from the university, and say goodbye to paid tuition. Harsh.
But … students still cheat. So what’s behind this risk-taking behavior?
A few instructors and professors have actually asked. Here’s your cheat sheet to their findings on why college students cheat:
WHY? Cheating Can Be Rationalized
After realizing that nearly three-fourths of his class had cheated on a take-home exam, one instructor and his colleagues at Iowa State University College of Business conducted a 2006 study examining how students bend the rules:
Researchers found an ego-based climate in which students justify their actions through rationalizing, minimizing and even blaming. “Factors that can be used to encourage ethical behavior can also be manipulated to encourage behavior that is unethical,” the researchers determined.
Respondents blamed the professor for assigning answers that could be found online and for not assuming students would collude on the assignment. They also focused on more serious offenses of cheating and questioned whether certain actions could even be constituted as cheating.
WHY? Everybody Else is Cheating
Indeed, “everyone cheats” was the rationale of some respondents in the Iowa study. And in a TED lecture from last year, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Dan Ariely describes several experiments in which he found not “a few people who cheated a lot” but instead “a lot of people who cheat a little bit.”
Interestingly, he also found what he dubs “endemic” cheating. “If somebody from our ‘in’ group cheats, we feel it is more appropriate to behave this way,” Ariely explains. “But if it’s somebody we don’t want to associate ourselves with -- from another university or another group -- people cheat less.”
WHY? Cheating’s Getting a Lot Easier
Between smartphones, online courses and hundreds of Web outlets where students can download or custom-order essays, technology makes cheating more accessible than ever. One UVA English professor, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she no longer leaves the room when administering tests: “The number of students who have Internet on their cell phones makes me downright paranoid, and I just can’t trust that they won’t feel tempted to use them.”
School administrators are looking for ways to combat this trend.
In a recent study published in the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, researchers note that Troy University is exploring moves to ensure academic integrity, including subjecting students to fingerprint analysis, video surveillance and audio recording when taking online courses.
WHY? There’s So Much Pressure
As college stresses mount, it certainly can be tempting to search for an answer key online, copy a worksheet from a friend or even plagiarize a few sentences for that six-page paper that’s due. “It’s always a struggle to keep up the GPA, not just for yourself but for your parents too,” says Tiffany Morris, an Auburn University junior. “Your GPA follows you after you’re done, and I think that’s one of the greatest motivators behind kids cheating.”
The demands of college can be daunting, to say the least. “It’s always a balance. I’m living in my sorority house this year, chairing a committee and trying to cope with a double major,” says Chelsea Bradley, a junior at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. “I guess one of the biggest detractors to cheating for me is knowing that it’s not a good thing to do.”
As it turns out, moral prompts can trump the urge to cheat even under pressure. In one of Ariely’s MIT experiments, he asked participants to recall 10 books they had read in high school and others to recall the Ten Commandments. Says Ariely, “The people given the opportunity to recall the Ten Commandments did not cheat at all.”
WHY NOT? Cheating Totally Isn’t Worth It
Whatever your moral code, you stand to lose a lot by cheating. One of the most controversial decisions in the history of the UVA Honor Committee came last spring, when fourth-year student Jason Smith was found guilty of lying about an assignment in a pass/fail one-credit course. It resulted in his expulsion.
“The Jason Smith case was sobering,” says Sam Beaver, a UVA junior and former Honor Committee support officer. “It just goes to remind you that any little thing can come back to haunt you.”
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