Cheating at Uni: Who's doing it and why?
Academic dishonesty seems to be on the rise nationwide. How does Uni compare?
Published: Friday, February 27, 2009 - 4:08am
Graphs (click to enlarge)
URBANA — With cheating on the rise at many high schools across the country, teachers and administrators are looking to crack down.
But how bad is the cheating problem at Uni, a school inherently more academic and studious than most?
According to McCabe, 94 percent of high school students engage in at least one questionable behavior. His data come from an ongoing survey of more than 24,000 high school students from 70 public, private, and parochial schools.
McCabe found that more than 75 percent of high school students engaged in serious cheating, including 57 percent engaging in some form of plagiarism and 64 percent having cheated on a test or exam.
How does Uni compare? A Gargoyle survey conducted in January of 99 Uni students across all grade levels found that occurrence of cheating at Uni was lower than at other schools.
The survey was anonymous and participation was optional. However, unlike our survey, professional ones have methods to account for respondents who do not answer accurately.
The Gargoyle's survey found that 80 percent of Uni students have engaged in at least one questionable behavior, while 76 percent admitted to having cheated at least once.
Cheating on homework assignments was the most common, with 71 percent of students having done so. Far fewer students reported cheating on exams (39 percent) or on papers (13 percent).
Given the results of our survey, McCabe says that the occurrence of cheating at Uni is "below average for a public school — and even somewhat below average compared to the private schools I have looked at."
Private schools, McCabe added, "may resemble Uni in their selectivity and context."
Why students cheat
McCabe thinks the less frequent occurrence of cheating makes sense in the Uni context.
"A bunch of bright kids who know if they are at least moderately successful where they are — they will have the opportunity to go to a good college. This potentially reduces grade competition," he said.
"This positive impact is magnified, in my view, by the lack of [class] ranking since rank is an 'incentive' for some of our brightest students to cheat when they don't need to."
McCabe thinks competition for grades and time issues are the major causes for cheating. Because competition for grades at Uni is somewhat mitigated by Uni's atmosphere, time issues are the pervasive causes for cheating at Uni.
The Gargoyle's findings reflected this. The most commonly reported reason for cheating was the pressure caused by time constraints, with 77 percent of cheaters indicating it as a cause for their actions. Other frequently cited reasons included a lack of understanding of course material and a concern for grades.
One senior, who has asked not to be named, believes cheating is lower at Uni because it doesn't pay to cheat.
"The way our classes are, if you don't know anything, even if you cheat on a test, you're still going to struggle," the student said.
"The majority of cheating [at Uni] is on busy work. People who don't cheat should realize they're learning something. Cheating is not a free advantage."
To cheat, or not to cheat
In a cutthroat world of ultra-competitive college admissions, many students worry that if they don't get the grade, they won't get into top colleges, and if they don't get into top colleges, they won't have a well-paying job.
This mentality is perpetuated by parts of the education system and by much of what students see in the outside world — in sports, for example, where athletes have millions of dollars on the line based on how they perform.
As a result, some students even take a positive stance on cheating.
"I actually think cheating is good. A person who has an entirely honest life can't succeed these days," said one respondent in McCabe's survey.
Sometimes, when people see others cheating, they rationalize that they too have to cheat to get ahead.
"Many students feel cheating is sometimes necessary to level the playing field," McCabe noted. "It may be encouraged by the system's failure to more effectively address cheating and the resulting issue of fairness, which I think is a major motivator for student cheating."
One Uni student says that he doesn't think cheating is a big problem at Uni because "most things that get cheated on deserve to be cheated on."
A junior at Uni commented that cheating "gives people really important tools for getting by," but added that cheating is still bad.
What can be done?
With more thorough testing and more stringent penalties for athletes who dope, there are greater economic and social incentives against cheating. Superstar athletes caught doping, such as Marion Jones and now Alex Rodriguez, have been publicly shamed and humiliated for their use of performance-enhancing drugs.
But while Jones received jail time and fines in addition to being stripped of her Olympic medals, Rodriguez's multi-million-dollar contract will likely be unaffected by his usage of performance enhancing drugs.
Schools are hoping that cracking down on academic dishonesty will cause students to think twice about cheating. But reducing cheating isn't just about pushing morals and values; it's about building the right environment.
With a lower incidence of cheating at Uni than at other schools, it appears Uni's environment is already encouraging academic honesty.
Assistant Director Sue Kovacs noted that the survey results did not surprise her, and that she was encouraged by the low numbers of serious cheating.
Junior Laura Dripps feels that Uni's environment provides an alternative to cheating if the workload builds up too much.
"I feel like most of the people in my classes so far, if they feel like they're getting too much work, they're more likely to talk to the teacher or administration about it first rather than be like, 'Oh, that's OK, I'll just cheat around it.'"