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As semester pressure rises, is there more cheating at USU?

March 15th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Courtney Rhodes

LOGAN—As Utah State University students return from Spring Break and head toward the end of the school year, most are feeling the pressure. Competing deadlines, research projects, papers and reports, and the endless exam schedule put students under pressure to perform within competing deadlines.

In many instances, these activities represent a major part of a student’s semester grade and ultimately determine if they will graduate or get accepted into a graduate program. So why do college students put these opportunities at risk by cheating on their academic work?

Over the past 30 years, research has shown an alarming increase in all forms of cheating. This same research shows that more than 75 percent of college students admit to some form of cheating.

Interestingly, the research also indicates that a student’s tendency to cheat is strongly influenced by personal character and by perceptions of how their peers are behaving. The problem is so prevalent in the nation’s university system that some academic institutions are going to extreme measures to enforce honest behavior, while others are instituting academic honor codes that come from a place of trust, but ultimately holds students accountable.

Utah State is not immune from this problem, and faculty are challenged to ensure their students meet the highest standards of academic integrity. Bruce Miller, head of the Agricultural Systems Technology and Education Department said, “As a professor, I typically dealt with one to two academic dishonesty issues a semester.”

Given the number of students who admit to cheating versus those that are actually caught, the odds are clearly in the dishonest category. “I never study for tests, especially if I’m taking them at large tables because all you have to do is look diagonally and you’ve got all your answers from the person who actually studied,” said Kent, a USU student who admitted to cheating.

Katie, a USU junior, says she knows a lot of cheating goes on. “I know for a fact that my classmates plagiarize on essays and term papers and some will even brag about it after they received a passing grade for work that wasn’t theirs to begin with.”

This is consistent with national reports, such as a 2010 story in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a “professional cheater” who claimed to have written hundreds of term papers, chapters and other assignments for both undergraduate and graduate students.

Ted Pease, the head of the Journalism and Communication Department, agrees that keeping up with student dishonesty is a challenge. “There are so many ways for students to plagiarize and it has become increasingly difficult to catch students who are dishonest,” he said.

Although statistics point to the fact that cheating is on the rise, others disagree. “There has been a dramatic rise in the number of people looking for tutors compared to previous years,” said history and math tutor Bryan Greene, who sees this as an indication that students are taking their work more seriously. “I’ve had twice as many people ask for tutoring this year than last year and that number keeps increasing each year.”

Not only have tutoring requests increased at USU, but repeat cheating offenders have declined, says Eric Olsen, who, as associate vice president for student services, is the university’s chief disciplinary officer. “I have not seen a repeat offender in the four years that I have been doing this job.”

Preston Parker, a lecturer in public relations, captured the essence of the problem when he said, “Students need to know that cheating has many forms with the underlying concept being that you are taking credit for something you should not. This is a dangerous path to walk in life because if people quit trusting you, your choices and opportunities become limited.”

Clearly, most USU students demonstrate a commitment to ethical behavior. The increase in tutoring requests and peer pressure to be honest continue to support that perspective. But as these same students head into the end of year crunch, each student needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Do I want to be a person of integrity or someone who just didn’t get caught?”

Click here for a link to USU policy on student conduct and academic violations.

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