Our cheat sheet society

deborah san angelo

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College can be difficult and some students will cheat in order to get by. Many students. The rate of students who admit to cheating at least once has hovered around 75 percent since surveys by the Center for Academic Integrity and others began in 1962. So why does the shock value persist?

The shock lies in the number itself: a whopping three out of four students are dishonest, not taking into account the ones who don’t own up to it. That number is dismaying for faculty, future employers, parents footing tuition bills and the one out of every four students who pursue their work honestly.

We seem to see a general decline in ethics in practically all walks of life. Though is it a decline or just a wake-up call to the truth? If role models matter, we’re not modeling them well: corporate CEOs rip off their clients and companies, priests have sex with children and parishioners, athletes use illegal drugs to give themselves unfair advantages. Three NASCAR drivers deliberately spun out their cars to manipulate the outcome of a race.

We tolerate cheaters in the upper ranks and harbor a warped respect for the economically fittest, no matter how they achieve their success. We idolize mobsters, don’t prosecute greedy bankers who cause global economic downfalls, tolerate politicians who lie and forgive presidents who bamboozle us into unnecessary wars.
Is cheating so commonplace because of corrupt role models? Are schools and universities operating as cogs in the wheel of an amoral society?

To combat cheaters, colleges grapple with preventative measures such as expulsion. The halls of Harvard University echoes from a cheating scandal that resulted in the suspension of more than 60 students. Were these students lazy and morally bankrupt? Or might other factors contribute to the overall climate for cheating?

The number one reason reported by students for cheating is procrastination. Repetitive copiers – students who copy over 30 percent of their homework – are found to have enough working knowledge of the material, but don’t put enough effort into it or procrastinate too long before getting down to business.

A student working two jobs fights an uphill battle to get through a class. Students struggling to get through college courses taught in a non-native language also face hurdles. Some students have a harder time than others with workload. College isn’t for everybody but it’s become a necessity to get a decent job.

When a lot hinges on the final outcome, a student can be pushed to care more about the end result than the benefit of learning the material. Students at all levels and circumstances may resort to cheating.

Research shows that larger class sizes contribute to academic dishonesty because it’s more difficult for students and teachers to develop a rapport. The more impersonal the learning environment, the more frequently cheating occurs. A large lecture class that covers tons of material and determines grades by periodic exams practically induces cheating.

Students have to jump through a number of scholastic hoops before they’re awarded the privilege of taking courses directly related to their chosen major. It can be hard to get motivated about material you don’t particularly find all that fascinating. When students feel course material isn’t worth learning, they won’t feel the effort is worth giving.

Yet cheating requires effort, too. Consider the planning and preparation, not to mention the paranoia. The stakes are high: getting caught could be disastrous for your academic future and financial aid. What goes on your college record stays there forever. And the stress from risk-taking pumps up the adrenaline, which makes it easier to stay up all night to not study.

The tech-savviness of today’s students leads to a new kind of cheating. The internet provides students with inventive ways of maintaining their grades without required reading, tedious essay writing or hours of studying. Online instructional cheating videos detail clever methods to cheat your way through your education. Essay-writing-for-hire is available to anyone with a credit card.

When a professor gives little thought for how the material is being covered or who the students in the class are, it matters. Getting to choose the courses that actually interest you matters because if you see a subject as relevant to your own life, there won’t be any motivation to cut corners. Whenever performance is emphasized over learning, cheating can be an attractive option.

From 1962 to the present, the number of students who cheat remains stagnant. Why hasn’t this number budged after decades of progress in social, cultural and neurological research? If any efforts are being made, they’re not having any effect. Do dollar signs stand in the way of large-scale efforts to revamp how colleges create curriculum and motivate students? Or do colleges and universities choose to maintain complacency? Three-fourths of your client base is nothing to make waves with.

But what about the 25 percent who play by the rules and work for their grades? Is it fair to them that some of their classmates can cheat and get away with it, pulling ahead in the GPA race?

While in college, you can choose to improve yourself and develop your mind. Or you can choose to improve at being a thief and conniver and make a mockery of your education. Your learning experience is yours. There’s no cheating yourself out of that.

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