Why Students Cheat: A Student View

I was emptying some boxes of files from my NJIT days (it has been 5 months so...) and I came across a large set of folders from my time on the Honor Committee. I originally became involved with that group because I was the administrator for Turnitin.com services on campus. I was doing workshops, working with individual faculty and eventually working with the Dean of Students about how it could be used. Eventually, this led to me joining and then chairing the committee.

We were very ambitious. We spent months going over the honor code in an attempt to update it. We ran workshops on academic integrity for students and faculty. There was a poster design competition to promote integrity on campus. The campus newspaper ran stories on our efforts. The most controversial of those articles listed the numbers of students who had been caught cheating or plagiarizing and what the consequences turned out to be. No names used, but it was an attempt to dispel a myth that "nothing ever happens to students who are caught."

One sheet that I came across was the results of some formal and informal surveys we conducted with students about WHY they cheated or plagiarized. We had undergrad and graduate students on our committee and good connections with both of those student government organizations. Students were surprisingly open about instances of cheating they had observed. Though our committee students were probably not not 100% free of violations, they were good students who were angry about student cheating and especially vocal about faculty members who did nothing to prevent it, or chose to ignore obvious occurrences of it in their classrooms.

This list combines the reasons and beliefs about cheating given by students for why students cheat or plagiarize. If you teach, I'm sure you will not agree with all of these - but that's not the point of the list.
  1. Because they can – this is borne out by other surveys that show that most students who cheat will not be caught, therefore they see it as
  2. a fairly low risk but high-benefit behavior.
  3. If caught, their perception is that the consequences are minimal, and that
  4. the typical faculty response is to ignore it.
  5. They also believed that much of the coursework assigned was too difficult, a waste of time, or so easy to cheat on that it actually encouraged students to do so.
  6. We also heard the classic bandwagon response: Everyone is doing it.
  7. Cheating = better grades, which = admission to better schools, scholarships, fellowships, obtaining and retaining financial aid, and getting internships and jobs. See #2 - it's a high-benefit risk.
  8. Cheating is one way to deal with the unreal expectations of a professor, parents, or honors programs.

This is one of two posts today about this topic. The second one looks at why teachers are sometimes reluctant to report cases of cheating.


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