Why students really cheat

They can use the time they saved to work and earn money

Simple economic incentives encourage students to cheat, so the practice is unlikely to abate anytime soon without a major system overhaul, Carol Poster writes for Inside Higher Ed

Students have many options available to them when it comes to cheating that save time and are cost-effective. For example, Poster says, suppose a student must choose between spending 20 hours to write a term paper or working. He can earn $180 for 20 hours of work at his job and buy a term paper online for $80, meaning he has $100 left over that he wouldn't have earned if he had written the paper himself.

Professor to disruptive class: I am failing all of you.

Students have their pick of countless online resources giving them exactly the answers they need, allowing them to spend less time doing school work.

"The fees required to access the sites may be substantially less than the amount of money the students can earn in the hours they would need to spend reading, studying, calculating, or writing to complete the assignments themselves," Poster says.

Low pay for some educators may also contribute to the rise in cheating options, according to Poster. She suggests that adjunct professors well-versed in course materials could be the authors of some pre-written term papers circulating online. "For unemployed Ph.D.s , graduate students or underpaid adjuncts and junior faculty, working for student help sites is a convenient income supplement," Poster says. 

Principles of supply and demand also play a significant role in cheating. As more students attend college and as the prospect of academic employment becomes less feasible, the demand for online resources and educators to create them will increase, Poster says. She proposes that as that happens, the cost of online materials will decrease and more educators will be tempted to sell term papers.

What schools can do

"Engaging in an arms race of policing technology versus cheating technology solves nothing," Poster argues. Doing so only takes time away from real teaching, she continues, while cheaters will continuously devise more advanced technology. "The underlying economics remain the same," Poster says.

That's why Poster believes the entire system has to be upended. "Rather than blaming lazy students or bad teaching for the growth of Internet-facilitated student cheating, we must ... change the underlying economy of cheating," Poster says. She proposes several solutions, such as creating extended individualized oral and written exams, similar to those administered to Ph.D. students, or doing away with grades completely.

Poster warns, "Otherwise, no matter how much we wring our hands, police our classrooms or moralize, cheating will continue to proliferate" (Poster, Inside Higher Ed, 3/8). 

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