Disclaimer: The names of students highlighted in this article have been modified to protect their identity.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— We know the term by its several aliases: Academic dishonesty, academic fraud, academic misconduct, and the more informal “cheating.”
Whatever you call it, recent studies have shown a growth in the number of students who engage in academic dishonesty.
“I think it’s very common,” says student Taylor Miller. “It’s not just the students with the bad grades who are cheating. Sometimes, it’s actually the smartest students in the class who are cheating to stay ahead because of their fear of failure.”
86 percent of students reported cheating in some way in their careers, according to Kessler International, a firm that provides private investigation services, forensic accounting and digital forensics.
Of that 86 percent, 97 percent of students claim they have never been caught and another 54 percent reported that cheating was OK.
While cheating is far from a new concept, these high percentages are not number that were seen less than a hundred years ago.
According to a fact sheet provided by the Educational Testing Service, or ETS, and the Ad Council’s Campaign to Discourage Academic Cheating, only 20 percent of college students admitted to cheating during the 1940’s.
Of course, all of these statistics beg one question to be answered: Why?
According to Professor Matthew Groe, who serves as the chair of the Academic Integrity Counsel, several factors might be contributors.
One such factor is demanding coursework.
“In my experience, if the material is difficult, then cheating will be higher,” Groe says. “If it’s more difficult, out of their difficulty range, and they’re stretched too far, then they’ll be more prone to cheat.”
Miller says that difficulty is often a factor considered when making the decision to cheat.
“Don’t get me wrong, if I don’t feel like I need to cheat, I won’t cheat,” Miller says. “But it’s the classes that are very difficult, if I find that the grading is in an unfair ratio to the work I’m putting in, I need that shortcut to get by.”
Of course, difficulty of a course isn’t the only factor that leads a student to engage in academic misconduct. Other factors, such as poor time management, a belief that the student can get away with it, or even a misunderstanding of what cheating is can prompt students to cheat.
“They’re out of time, they were spending time in the wrong way, and now it’s due, and they have to get it out, so they end up being sloppy,” says Groe. “They don’t think they’ll get caught. And that’s something students have told me. They knew that what they were doing wasn’t the right way to do it, but they didn’t believe the professor would notice.”
According to Groe, personal conflicts can also increase students need to cheat. Because of this, students who are caught cheating are required to attend educational counseling.
“You’d be surprised at why some people cheat,” Groe says. “Some people cheat because their lives are such a frenzy, either because of a family situation or money, so they have to work another job and then they don’t have time. Or, maybe they need a tutor and they’re just too busy. So educational counseling can help find out if there’s another area of their life that’s so bad, it’s causing them to cheat as a shortcut.”
Last year, 1.32 percent of JU’s 5,588 students were reported cheating. According to Groe, in areas where academic misconduct was reported, the incidents of cheating decreased.
Because of this and the educational policy for academic dishonesty, Groe encourages professors to report students.
“Our policy is primarily educational, so when they do plagiarize, they aren’t thrown out on the street,” he says. “We make them go to the writing center as a punishment. And they have to learn. So, we don’t want them back. We do have some repeat offenders, but not many.”
An additional factor to consider is technology, which sometimes makes cheating easier.
“It facilitates cheating,” says student Alex Smith. “It makes it accessible, I can get my phone out and use it on a test or use my computer to look up homework answers.”
Miller says that there are steps professors can take to prevent students from cheating in the first place, such as providing ample resources for students to feel more prepared.
“If professors are encouraging us not to cheat, a simple upload of a study guide, giving us practice exams, making us more comfortable with the material,” Miller says. “That way, when we get to the test, we’re not taken back by it or caught off guard, in which case you can get fear of failing for the rest of the semester.”
The final thing Groe encourages students to do is to think about what cheating reflects about them.
“What kind of person do you want to be?” he says. “What kind of person cheats? What kind of person do you want building your bridges or piloting your planes? I challenge students to think about it that way.”