Student cheaters devalue degrees

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

Students cheat.

Numerous studies have been conducted identifying the cause, but the ultimate fact is, as long as testing is used to evaluate knowledge, there will be cheating. What can be changed is cheaters’ comprehension of the far-reaching consequences attached to their academic dishonesty.

Donald McCabe, a Rutgers University professor, has studied cheating in higher education for more than 18 years. Cheating in Academic Institutions: A Decade of Research, a collaborative article written in 2001 by McCabe, Linda Klebe Treviño and Kenneth D. Butterfield identified changes in cheating during the last 30 years.

The article compared two surveys. The first, done by sociologist, William Bowers, in 1963 of 5,000 students from more than 99 U.S. colleges and universities, revealed that 75 percent of students admitted to cheating. A 1993 replicated survey by McCabe and Treviño of more than 6,000 students at 31 institutions showed 82 percent of students admitted to it.

Not much changed in 30 years. The most shocking difference is that 25 percent more students admitted seriously cheating on tests, with 39 percent in 1963 and 64 percent in 1993.

Cheaters are often undeterred by accusations of harming others and defend their action as acceptable because it only hurts themselves if they are caught. The proverbial ripple effect caused by the rock thrown into the pond is usually never considered.

The saddest consequence directly affects students, not because they might get caught and punished, but because they are cheating themselves out of knowledge. The U’s Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities states that “the mission of the University of Utah is to educate the individual and to discover, refine and disseminate knowledge.”

Distracting factors such as work, dating and extracurricular events like sports all contribute to less and less available time for quality studying, but they are not excusable defenses of cheating. The main reason for attending college should be learning, and cheating inhibits knowledge.

The most unfair consequence affects fellow students. McCabe, Treviño and Butterfield’s article also identifies frustration as one of the reasons students cheat. Everyone else is doing it and often teachers are not stopping it.

Even though it’s not right, some students cheat to compete. Cheaters’ “great grades” directly affect the grades of non-cheaters, especially if the teachers grade on a curve.

It takes a lot of work to be a legitimate above average student. Several hours must be spent each day reading, often the same chapter several times, just to gain a thorough understanding. Cheaters eliminate all of that for themselves, but in return, they make tests harder for honest students wanting to excel.

What does the fact that 82 percent of students admit to cheating have do with the value of degrees granted in the United States?

It proves that overall, most students are more concerned about their grades than they are with gaining knowledge. But, what is the value of a degree if the student doesn’t retain any of the knowledge the degree symbolizes?

Students will inevitably continue to cheat. But instead of selfishly justifying and denying the consequences that affect so many others, students who cheat need to ask themselves if it is really worth it. Even if cheaters never get caught, they will still be left with a worthless degree.

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Alicia Williams