Academic Dishonesty in Colleges & Universities
The rate of academic dishonesty among college students ranges from 60 to 90 percent, depending on the research study. Students who cheat in high school tend to enter college classrooms thinking that academic dishonesty is the norm; this behavior is reinforced when teachers do little to deter it or punish offenders. Academic dishonesty takes on many forms, from allowing a peer to copy answers to downloading an entire paper from the Internet. According to the research, members of fraternities and sororities are more likely to cheat than nonmembers, males are more likely to cheat than females, and upperclassmen more than freshmen and sophomores. Students who tend to procrastinate are also at risk. Peer response to cheating is shown to be the most important influence regarding a student's willingness to cheat.
Keywords: Academic Dishonesty; Academic Ethic; Active Deception; Ethics; External Locus of Control; Internal Locus of Control; Morality; Passive Deception; Plagiarism; Punitive
People cheat all the time. Someone rolls through a stop sign while someone else steals cable television from his neighbor. Cheating is common in our culture, and the reason for dishonest behavior may be the result of distorted lines between what is right and what is wrong. The impact of such distortion is significant for students, for those who break rules imply that breaking rules is acceptable. Further, if punitive measures do not result from breaking rules, those rules have little value. Thus a culture of confusion is created as mom rolls through various stop signs and dad rigs wiring from the neighbor's house to steal cable television.
In higher education, the lines are also blurred. Generally speaking, academic dishonesty is the active or passive falsifying of academic work. An active deceiver copies answers from someone else, steals an exam, or downloads a paper directly from the Internet. The passive deceiver allows someone else to copy an answer, a whole assignment, or even a paper. The passive deceiver can easily justify his behavior — he or she is helping a friend, not doing the actual cheating. The active deceiver, however, has a more self-serving justification; he or she is trying to get ahead. Both students are culpable if caught; after all, cheating is cheating, regardless of the justification.
According to Westacott (2008), academic dishonesty occurs because students want to impart an impression of themselves onto others. For example,
“all instances of academic dishonesty are attempts to appear cleverer, more knowledgeable, more skillful, or more industrious than one really is. Buying or copying a term paper, plagiarizing from the Internet, using a crib sheet on an exam, accessing external assistance from beyond the exam room by means of a cell phone, fabricating a lab report, having another student sign one's name on an attendance sheet—all such practices serve this same purpose. The goal is to produce an appearance that is more impressive than the reality” (p. 21).
External/Internal Locus of Control
Unfortunately, the impression does not do anyone any good. Students who cheat rely on outside sources to prove themselves. This leads to an external locus of control in that the same students blame teachers, friends, the weather, or something else for their lack of knowledge or preparation. For example, students with an external locus of control become very good at creating excuses: "My teacher never told us about the test," "It rained so hard, I didn't dare go to the library." Students who do not cheat do not need to; they study and blame only themselves when they fail. This internal locus of control is learned just as negative behaviors are learned. Unfortunately, research shows that many students rely on others to assist them academically:
- In a study by Haines et al. (1986), over 50 percent of students admitted to cheating at a southwestern state university.
- Stern & Havlicek (1986) studied a large state university in the Midwest and noted that 82 percent of students had cheated at least once while in college.
- Michaels & Miethe (1989) noted that 86 percent of the students in their study cheated on homework, tests, or papers.
- According to a Coston & Jenks (1998) study, more than half of the criminal justice majors at a southern university had behaved dishonestly in school.
- At the University of Oklahoma, a study conducted by Cochran et al. (1999) showed that over 80 percent of sociology majors had cheated at least once.
- Finally, in a review of over one hundred studies focusing on cheating, Whitley (1998) documented that over 70 percent of study participants had cheated in college (as cited in Pino & Smith, 2003).
The nightly news reports scandal after scandal in which real people cheat, lie, and steal to get what they want: more money, more power, and more material things. It is no wonder that a culture of academic dishonestly has been created so future generations get their share of a distorted American dream.
Why Students Cheat
The reasons students give for cheating vary depending on the student and the situation. Even for the most ethical students, the opportunity to cheat is offered regularly. Anyone conducting research using the Internet has come across information they did not necessarily seek: free papers at the click of a mouse. The relative ease for taking a phrase, a paragraph, or an entire paper from the Internet has allowed students to become thieves of information. In a study conducted by Scanlon (2004), one-fourth "of college students surveyed have plagiarized from the Internet, but students perceive that significantly more students than that are doing so" (as cited in Iyer & Eastman, 2008, p. 22).
In addition to the opportunities provided by the Internet, the following reasons have also been given by college students regarding academic dishonesty, according to several scholars:
- They don't understand what plagiarism is (Park, 2003);
- They have poor time management skills (Lambert et al. 2003; Park 2003; Payne & Nantz 1994);
- They are defiant and/or have a lack "of respect for authority" (Park, 2003);
- They feel negatively about a teacher or class (Park, 2003; Payne & Nantz, 1994);
- They have not been deterred by other students cheating, getting caught, and being punished (Park, 2003; Payne & Nantz, 1994);
- They feel pressured by their peers (Payne & Nantz, 1994); and
- They see little effect of cheating on others (Payne & Nantz, 1994) (as cited in Iyer & Eastman, 2008, p. 22).
Though extremely generalized, these are the explanations provided by students. In sum, students behave dishonestly in college because they don't fully understand what academic honesty means. They also plan their time improperly and/or have little regard for their teachers and classes. Furthermore, they see their friends getting away with it, and it is easy to do. However, those who do fit specific profiles.
Which Students Cheat
Storch and Storch (2002) studied almost 250 undergraduate students at the University of Florida and noted that while many students admitted cheating at some point in college, fraternity and sorority members "reported higher rates of academic dishonesty as compared to non-members." The researchers also identified that the level of involvement students had within "fraternity or sorority sponsored activities was positively associated with academic dishonesty" (Storch & Storch, 2002, ¶ 1). The reasons for this are not clear, however. The occurrence of dishonest behavior among fraternity and sorority students has been studied since the 1970s, and while several investigations show that fraternal members cheat more often than non-members, no study identifies reasons why this may be the case.
According to the responses in the Storch and Storch (2002) study, male fraternity members cheated more often than female sorority members. Also, simply participating in fraternity/sorority sponsored activities increases a student's likelihood of cheating, with more participation leading to more cheating. It is possible that the amount of time spent engaging in organizational activities may leave little time for studying (Storch & Storch, 2002). In addition, members tend to live in close proximity to each other, so it is possible that exams and assignments (like clothing), become hand-me-downs from student to student and from year to year. However, there may be another explanation entirely:
“Previous research has found a positive relationship between membership in fraternal organizations, and sexual aggression and substance abuse.... It is possible that the mentality that causes members to commit these transgressions may filter over into the classroom, thus, explaining the high level of academic dishonesty” (Storch & Storch, 2002, Discussion).
Fraternity and sorority members often refer to each other as brothers and sisters. Closely related to a gang mentality, brotherhood/sisterhood requires a type of rejection of all that is not part of the membership. As a result, imitating behaviors recognized as routine could seem essential for continued membership. If everyone within the membership cheats, it would be difficult to refuse and also remain a worthy brother or sister.
Other Factors to Consider
In a study conducted by Pino and Smith (2003), several other factors were identified as being linked with academic dishonesty. While over half of the survey respondents reported never cheating in school, the students who did cheat tended to participate in social activities (clubs, groups, Greek organizations), and they watched television more than students who reported never cheating. In addition, respondents who had been in school longer (sophomores, juniors, seniors) were more likely to report cheating than students newer to higher education. Again, it could be...
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