HigherEdMorning.comTop 4 reasons college students cheat

Top 4 reasons college students cheat

April 2, 2010 by Geneva Reid
Posted in: Academics, In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News & Views

Cheating is risky business — but college students continue to do it. Take a look at what’s motivating them. In The Real College Guide, David Replogle looked at studies and individual professor’s experiences with cheating and came up with these findings:

  • “It’s not my fault” — A 2006 study from the Iowa State College of Business found students placed the blame on their professors. Students said questions shouldn’t be asked if the answers are available on the Internet. They also believed professors should take it as a given that students will help each other out on assignments.
  • “Everyone does it” — This was the response from some students in the Iowa study. An MIT professor explored the issue on his own and found many students cheat “a little bit,” rather than a handful of students who cheat a lot.
  • “It’s so easy to cheat” — Cell phones, BlackBerries, laptops … Technology has made it easier than ever to cheat. Take-home test? No problem — just download the answers or essays from an online source.
  • “Gotta keep up my GPA” — College courses can be demanding and students feel the pressure. A typical student may be juggling school work, a part-time job, on-campus activities and a social life. You have to be made of strong moral stuff to resist the urge to copy and paste your answers from a Web site.

The real question is: From a student’s perspective, are the reasons against cheating more compelling than the reasons defending it?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • Brandon

    Academic integrity and a common code of conduct would go far in curbing cheating. Most rules against cheating I have seen at institutions I do business with, have no teeth. I’m suspect too many people are afraid of being sued to truly enforce harsh punishments for cheating. Part of the blame begins with our society’s core philosophies now: “win at all costs”, “my kid is just as smart…”, and many others. Technology is simply the newest tool to take the quick and easy route to success. Without set standards of behavior, high expectations for integrity, and severe consequences for those who stray from the path I do not see this problem going away.

  • http://higheredmorning Patricia Dudley

    No matter what the excuse is – cheating is cheating. The cheater is the one who will not be knowledgeable about the subject. Young people today do not care if cheating is stealing, if it benefits them, it is okay. Obviously the world is changing. Please God, don’t let the nurse who takes care of me be one of the cheaters!!

  • Tony

    Cheating is an American way of life. Our officals do it, Wall St does it, we cheat on our taxes, our business sector cheats thier stockholders, we cheat on our spouses ,etc.

    As they say, its a crime only if you get caught.

    I pesonally don’t beleive in this philosophy. However I have caught students cheating and they usually end up not passing the class ; )

    Reporting them to the dean of student affairs is usually a excercise in futility. They get a slap and get reinstated.

    I do have the final say though whether they pass or not, so that is the trump card.

  • Rick

    A test shouldn’t ask simple information that can be (and should be) looked up – I don’t want a nurse who cheats, but I even more don’t want a nurse who relies on her best guess rather than double-checking the reference books.
    The best way to curb most kinds of cheating is to make cheat-proof tests: tests that require some thought and comprehension instead of tests that just ask for memorization. “Cell phones, Blackberries, laptops …” are a fact of life, and a huge benefit. What matters most is what you do with information, not whether you know it vs look it up.
    So a lot of the time, I side with the first reason: it’s the professors’ fault.

  • Andrew Hamilton

    Unfortunately, we have trained our children, from grade school on up, that good grades are mandatory for their resume to enter college. If they bring home a less-than-perfect report card, mommy and/or daddy goes screaming at the teacher demanding to know why their little cherub didn’t get a stellar grade. We have inundated schools with this “student of the month” bumper sticker to the extent that parents are getting involved with the merit awarding and rigging the process so that their child gets recognition, rather than letting the child truly earn it on their own merits. The kids have been coddled and never made responsible or accountable for their actions. Small wonder they have no remorse for cheating. The parents have taught them how it’s done.

  • E

    Makes me wonder about the person cheating. If they are willing to cheat, where else will they bend the rules? Personal integrity or lack thereof follows the individual through life, and affects all parts of it.
    How far down the wrong path will this attitude take an individual?

  • Donna

    I agree cheating is cheating. It means that they don’t know the material and do not deserve the grade that they earned. They won’t bring that knowledge with them in the work force. In addition to what Pat said, I sure don’t want a nurse or doctor that has to look up everything on the internet. I work full time and I am taking two night classes in computer programming. I do not feel compelled to cheat to keep up my grades. In programming you need to learn the material and use the internet later as a refresh if need be. Going to school and getting good grades is only a matter of prioritizing one’s time and making some sacrifices.

  • Rhonda

    The best way to curb cheating is not to give simple assignments or multiple choice (or other easy) test questions. My tests are almost completely essay or short-answer. And I change the questions every year so the answers aren’t “out there” somewhere to be accessed. A student is far less likely to try to cheat on such a test because he/she has to actually know the material well enough to explain it, and I get a chance to judge their depth of understanding. I know there are some disciplines in which this would be harder to do than mine–theology, which lends itself in general to this kind of testing better than, say, the sciences or mathematics.

    As for papers, I’m not longer that concerned with students taking their material from somewhere else and have started grading more on what they do with the material–how they incorporate it in an argument, or use it to help in their analysis. I’ve conceded the most people now look at stuff on the internet as public domain and not as original thought that is copyrighted (even though it’s true). In reality their ability to use the material to a creative or thoughtful end is more important to me than where they got the material in the first place.

  • Scott

    Practicing what you teach and leaders actually following what they write will go much further than having the students sign a pledge (punishable for non-compliance) or posting a placard on a wall. As a Gen-Xer, I always loved how the previous generation(s) said I was lazy, non-compliant with little loyalty to either institutions or corporations. So lets look at a few common trends inflicted upon the X’ers by generation(s) prior that molded them: Kremer vs. Kremer (divorce), corporate raids of the 80′s (Daddy no longer has a job due to a hostile takeover even though he showed up for duty, on-time and ready, for 30 years) and, of course, AIDS (which Eddy Murphy described as the sex that will kill you). BTW, this is the first generation allowed to live after Roe Vs. Wade.

    If winning at all costs is not important, why are so many campuses claim a coach that earns more than the president? How about a raise after sanctions are imposed for cheating by the NCAA? Or, like in my home state, the highest paid public employee is a college coach of a losing team. Kids are supposed to notice this value inequity?

    So, before the students are required to be honest, realize that they are watching to see if the instructors in front of them are treating any code proffered as lip service or are LIVING it because it is the right thing to do. Too often the words leadership and administrate (in various forms) get confused. They are not the same. In pop culture, they are as different as prominent and significant. Paris Hilton is prominent, the sheriff is significant. Seldom is a person both but few in society make the distinction.

    There is no doubt that kids cheat but so do their professors, parents and leaders. What is not brought up in this article is when professors set traps on their students…when they assign tasks that CANNOT be completed in the time given with a typical 18-21 hour credit load. My favorite? When my final exam was brought in on a two-wheeled cart. The professor knew it would take more than the sanctioned two hour limit. His response? Since it was the last exam time slot before Christmas Break, we could take as much time as we wanted.

    Here is what I have witnessed as I pursue a collegiate career: professors cheating on their spouses with students (if the person that sleeps with you cannot trust you, who can); a University that rescinds commitments to their employees due to a bean counter, auditor or some other entity they can hide behind. My all-time favorite is the new trend of indemnity release forms for employees, faculty and students that holds the University harmless (irresponsible) for ANYTHING that may happen…even if the University is proven to be in fault

    Like a preacher told me long ago, anytime you point a finger, three are pointing back. Cheating students? They must be first shown by example it is not the way to go. Secondly, leaders must lead and not be beaten back by risk management. Then, lastly, the students should be held accountable. Don’t blame the kids for the parent’s problems.

  • byron curtis

    I flunked a student last semester who persistently cheated on homework (copying another student’s work) even after being caught. The F wasn’t just the result of the zeros I awarded him; by the percentages, he still could have passed. The trouble was, he didn’t know the material. He could have learned the material, done the homework honestly, and then passed the exams. Instead, he copied somebody’s homework, turned that in, and failed the exams.

    As for the student who allowed his work to be copied, all that work got zeros, too, but that student passed with a C. He had done the work, so he (mainly) understood the material.

  • Wendy

    Based on a frank discussion I had with classmates about cheating in undergrad days, some students cheated on classes they felt were “non-essential” because they just didn’t have time to devote to studying for it.
    They seemed to understand that classes that were essential to their chosen career path, or core curriculum classes needed their full attention. They studied for those and didn’t cheat, but prerequisites, or other classes that they deemed not worthy of their full attention were tolerated and passed at whatever cost so as not to ruin their GPA.

  • Win

    Andrew is right. I have often said that elementary school “science projects” are the point where we teach our children just how much plagiarizm and cheating is allowed. Especially if there is some sort of school or district competition, the student’s actual input is minimal.

    Cheating is bad, and students need to do their own work. It would just be nice if our freshmen really believed that when they walked onto campus.

  • Edgar Crockett

    I wonder if Bernie Madoff cheated in school…

  • Melissa Johnson

    Several years ago I worked at a major institution where we offered accommodated testing for eligible students. I oversaw our testing services, and we required our students to leave their books, bags, purses, phones, etc. in our office while they took their tests.

    Event with these precautions, I encountered several students cheating during mid-term exams. Several wrote answers on their skin (under their long-sleeve shirts); others were allowed to bring scratch paper, but they slipped answers in-between the sheets of scratch paper; others folded sheets of paper containing answers in their underwear or underneath their ball caps. The lack of integrity–coupled with the brazen attitude of our students–was really faith-shattering to me. I’ve always believed in the importance of honesty and integrity. Accountability and morals begin at home, and are (hopefully) reinforced in school. Children consistently mirror the behavior of the people around them. Nowadays, children grow up seeing public servants, sports heroes, and celebrities who are considered successful in their careers IN SPITE OF truly despicable behaviors. Where is the incentive to behave with honesty and integrity if it was never taught to them and reinforced from day one?

    In response to Patricia’s concern about cheaters who go into the medical profession, I DID catch a young woman cheating who also happened to be a nursing student. It scares me to death when I think of the eventual consequences for all of us.

  • sue

    as a returning older student desiring “learning” as much or more than “grades,” I was surprised to find out how much cheating goes on in my program, which is a competitive program with many students from India. So I am not sure how much of what I see is specific to my program and how much is endemic.

    The program is extremely demanding in terms of credit hours and I soon learned that a desire to absorb the material deeply and learn conflicts with a desire to get a good grade often.

    I think one solution would be to grade more on process than product. This would be alot more work for faculty and cost more to administer. What I am suggesting is that there be much more interaction and small group meeting between teacher/student – and that students submit all the preparation work for a final product along with the final product, IE their notes, journal of thoughts, a log of hours worked, comments on sources they researched etc. And that the notes and hours on the process be worth as much as the final result.

    When we only grade the final “product” we do not reward students for the time spent exploring blind alleys and we grow simplistic, conformist thinkers.

  • Brian HOlt

    So, there may be problems in enforcing rules about academic integrity. The ‘stick’ is not effective.

    The article poses a different question, what’s the ‘carrot’ for the students?

    Would pride in their own work be increased if they didn’t cheat?

    Would being able to admit that they are imperfect and can’t always get 100% on everything?

    Is that honesty embraced in the classroom so they can take more and more responsibility for their current abilities, and would that not lead to an increase in those abilities?

    Would shorter assignments make it easier for them to own their work and not feel overwhelmed, which probably is the beginning of their rationalization for cheating?

  • http://theconstantviewer.blogspot.com Paul M.

    I’ve been teaching English for almost 30 years, and have always refused to police my students. If they cheat, it’s their fault–not mine, not their blackberry’s, not the tyranny of the GPA. When I do spot cheating, I take the proper measures; but I cannot teach with a suspicious mind. The nuns used to tell us that if we cheated, we cheated only ourselves. Thank you, Sister.

    By the way, Sue is right: teach process, not product; work more closely with students; encourage originality. For content-heavy subjects, stress information as a tool, a means to problem-solving.

  • Kathy

    While I don’t agree with cheating, I am a teacher and I believe part of the blame lies with teachers/professors. It would not be easy to cheat on my exams, even the take-home exams, because I do not give assignments or tests that require mere regurgitation or repeating back to me the materials that can be found in textbooks and on the internet. I give assignments and questions that require analytic thought, conclusions, and support of those conclusions, and other assignments and questions that I consider “applied”. This is how I approach it whether I teach statistics, methods, theory or substantive courses. I also provide both in-class and out-of-class opportunities for students to work together. I would support requirements that teachers, especially on the college level, have work experience outside of academia so that they can better help students relate their course experience to their current and future work and personal lives.

  • Friday Knight

    Two things make students flunk my class. One is cheating and two is being a Democrat.

  • http://www.otc.edu Ty Patterson

    We have created an educational system based on control of behavior which results in students having little, if any, respect for learning. In such a culture cheating is accepted as a means to the end of getting a grade, not learning! Obviously, cheating does not produce the learning we desire of our students at any level.

    Another complication is our failure to teach proper attribution of sources. This results in students not understanding the importance of citing the “source of an idea” when a direct quote is not employed.

    It is interesting to note that older/returning college students are much more respectful of learning. Their life experience has helped them see the value of learning. They know their ability to advance in a career will depend on what they know rather than what is on a piece of paper.

  • I Don’t Give Zeroes and I Give Makeup Exams

    Here are some rhetorical questions for all of you: are PROFESSORS blameless? Do they NEVER EVER “cheat”? To my knowledge, the word “cheat” means “to engage in dishonest behavior”, which makes we wonder: is “cheating” simply limited to copying answers on a test, or turning in a paper that you didn’t write, or…”PLAY-GEE-A-RISING”? Or, are there other dimensions of cheating, some of which PROFESSORS just might be guilty of?

    I think a major problem is that we tend to never question authority within our education system, due to the superior-inferior relationship between professors and students. For example, even though our politicians have authority over us, we are never shy about criticizing them when we feel they are wrong, because we do not regard them as our “superiors”. But in the case of professors, we have a tendency to believe they are automatically right and always right. Perhaps this tendency is exacerbated by the fact that professors are typically older and smarter than their students. All I know is that professors sure love being on a pedestal, because they obviously believe they can do whatever they want because of who they are. And they are right to believe this. Anybody who questions a professor’s actions will usually receive an extremely arrogant “BECAUSE I CAN” on the first try and a “GET OUT OF HEAR” on the second try…unless, of course, there is the threat of a lawsuit or something like that.

    The point I am trying to make is: I could list plenty of examples of dishonorable actions that I have witnessed MULTIPLE professors engaging in EVERY semester (and getting away with them time after time), but I am not going to waste my time unless somebody actually would be interested. Remember, just because somebody receives a degree from Harvard or a $10 million grant does not mean that they are incapable of wrongdoing.

  • I Give Makeup Exams but I Don’t Give Lipstick Exams

    note: If you want to laugh at me for typing “get out of hear” instead of “get out of here”, go ahead. It does not change nor discredit the points I am trying to make.

  • Hmmm

    Thank you Scott from March 31st….you are a genius

  • College Art

    Somewhere along the line we have become a culture more concerned with assessment than true learning and accomplishment. Students cheat because of all the reasons previously listed and more. Yes, parents, teachers, the community, politicians, sports icons and Hollywood have all painted the picture, but at some point one has to look at one’s self and take responsibility for one’s actions. It matters whether you get caught or you don’t get caught. It is about owning your actions and taking pride in a job well done.

  • Midnight Friday

    Friday Knight’s entry that s/he would give a student a failing grade “because they were a Democrat” sends shivers down my spine.

    What has happened to us?

    Are we no longer a ‘civil society’? Are we becoming a ‘blackboard jungle’?


    People who cheat do not respect themselves.

    I agree that we see cheating from people both high and low. That does not make it acceptable or right or honorable.

    Who is to blame?

    Let’s not waste time pointing fingers. Let’s not waste time trying to be cleverer than those inclined to cheat.

    Tests, quizzes, term papers, reports, etc. have two purposes: to learn what students know and to assign a ‘grade’ to that knowledge.

    I strongly agree that this process needs to be more interactive. Feedback needs to be more immediate.

    Evaluating the degree of a student’s learning should be shifting to a more ‘formative’ mode than ‘summative’, so students see this interaction as helping them rather than ‘just generating a grade’.

    Mary Budd Rowe, a well-known educator, said she saw students as either bowlers or crap-shooters. The bowlers see that they influence their future; practicing improves their game. The crap-shooters believe they have no control over their future; it’s a game of chance, so why try to improve your odds?

    Our job, I believe, is to be honest with our students – whatever their personal traits – so long as they respect each other and me. Why are we here? To get a grade or to learn important skills and knowledge? If we are teaching a course that is vital and we are enthusiastic about our students understanding what we have to teach, we will figure out how to assess their knowledge in valid, meaningful ways – technology included.

    Don’t just be smart. Be wise.

  • Bandy BB

    The only reasons that my students fail is because: they cheat (and are caught), and are either communists or republicans.

  • Friday Knight

    So Bandy BB flunks students who are republicans. In other words. Bandy is in the mold of virtually every professor on every American campus over the last 40 years.

  • Patty

    Most cheaters go into politics.

    Personally, I have never cheated. It is much easier on the mind to to the right thing. And the benefit is that I actually get to retain all of that information.

    I bet Jeopardy winners had never cheated either!

  • Sean M. Donahue

    Dear All,

    You each have different views as to what you consider to be cheating. That’s a big part of the problem. In undergrad, I worked alone and was rewarded because it was clear that I did my own work. In grad school, I was punished for working alone because professors didn’t want to grade too many assignments. Many would force me into groups and insist on group work. I never liked it because it didn’t prepare me as well for the exams as did working alone. Professors generally don’t grade homework and students are encouraged to work on it together. So I don’t see how students working together on homework is cheating. Homework should just be a mandatory process and most professors don’t even collect it. Homework should never be graded. It should be corrected to point out misunderstandings but there should be no credit given for completing it. Grades should be based on exams only and exams should be standardized and memorization based.

    The purpose of education is to train people to follow recipes for employers. You want uniformity and conformity. If you ask 60 students to solve a problem, then you want 60 uniformed implementations of the same tested and proven solution to that problem so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The most important thing about education is ensuring that employers know exactly what they are getting so that all 60 or 80 people leaving a class room do so with the same uniformed skill set. So practicing together is not cheating, its teamwork and it helps build desired uniformity in skill sets. If you ask 5,000 people who were trained to perform a task or to implement a procedure for solving a reoccurring problem and each of them gave the same uniform answer or implemented the procedure in the same uniform and standardized manner, then the teacher or professor did a good job. But if 5,000 people give 5,000 separate and different answers or use 5,000 different methods, then the teacher did a bad job. Education should be a process of homogenization into uniformity and students should be sorted into groups that are rank ordered by intellectual ability so that they can be uniform. The same should be done with professors. You should never have a college or university where the intellectual abilities of the faculty are not uniform.

    Regardless, cheating is when someone copies the answer down from another person’s test. That’s cheating. If the answer was adequately memorized, then its not cheating, its performance in accordance with standardized procedures. 5,000 different people, one question and 5,000 homogenized and uniformed standardized presentations of the very same answer. That’s successful training. That’s exactly what employers want. Let a smart team discover the best method then teach the multitudes the uniformed procedure. As educators, you are supposed to be doing that.

    Sean M. Donahue

  • Patricia Dudley

    Although I agree with much of what Sean says, when it comes to the nursing profession, if we are worried about individuals doing tasks, we would not need to teach critical thinking. Not all methods for grading are exams either. When a professor assigns a critical thinking assignment, working with someone else does not help the student to perfect the ability to think critically. Just as all people are individuals, their abilities are varied, group projects usually bring out the best in team players – an important aspect of being in the medical profession, however, finding a patient who is in cardiac or respiratory distress does not necessarily give the individual nurse time to “call in the team” to critically think “together.” Cheating comes in many forms, if we allow students to cheat in class when we are watching what will they do when they get out into the real world. In this case, we are talking about taking care of you or me or our loved ones. I have been a nurse for almost 40 years, you do not cheat when you have someone’s well-being in your hands! We are not just trying to get students to memorize material, we are trying to get them to “think” so they cane make the best decisions. As an educator, when the student will not study but relies on a friend to get by, in my opinion, “caring” just went out the window and being a nurse should not be an option for that student.

  • Sean M. Donahue

    Dear All,

    I am not opposed to “critical thinking” exams as long as they are standardized. In the nursing example given, the real life circumstance would deny a person time to go home and think about the problem or to collaborate with others. So, for the exam to be realistic, it should be hands on but standardized. Some of the complaints here were that students were collaborating on HW assignments. I see no problem with that because HW isn’t graded. At most HW should only get an undergrad 5% or so and 0% for a grad course. I think that is the norm. I don’t like group projects either because I always felt that I got gypped. I want some expert to teach me how to perform some sort of specialized task. Group projects let professors get away with only having to teach 1/3 of the class but receive 3/3 of a paycheck.

    I don’t know of the complaints about students collaborating on HW was with respect to nursing or not. But if there wouldn’t be time to do HW in the real situation, then why would doing well on HW carry enough credit to pass an exam? It shouldn’t. On a HW assignment, students should be able to spend a couple days thinking about what to do in a crisis event but during an exam, the time constraints of the crisis should be simulated. I don’t see how cheating could even occur in a hands on exam like that.

    Sean M. Donahue

  • Jeff Corey

    I have been teaching full time at the university level for 44 years and have never tolerated it. I let students know what constitutes plagiarism and cheating on tests, and they often express surprise. They were never told in high school that copying a sentence from another source without putting quotation marks around it, and citing the page number, author’s last name and date of publication and citing the whole article in their References section was required. (They are using APA style.) I also use Turnitin.com.
    Electronic cheating on tests is harder to detect that the old, “Sit next to the best student and copy her answers” ploy. I had a student using her blackberry during a test last week, even though the U’s policy is “No electronic devices during tests, unless explicitly allowed by the instructor.” The Dean and I agreed that a warning and a note in her student folder (in case a future problem arises) is appropriate.
    I was thinking that having a ringer attend the class and apparently be caught cheating on the first test and then confiscating the device and smashing it with a hammer in front of the class might work. At least it would be fun.

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