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How Many College Students Admit to Cheating?


Students do not see adult cheaters caught and punished, educators say.

Guess how many college students cheat.

If you thought, “most of them,” you’d get an A on that test.

About 68 percent of students polled admitted to cheating at least once, according to a survey of more than 71,000 students by the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) in 2015.

Eric Anderman has researched why and how students cheat for more than 20 years. His most recent research, published in September, asked more than 400 students at two large American research universities about cheating.

Anderman says students think it’s OK to cheat when they don’t like the class.And that usually means math and science classes.

Eric Anderman
Eric Anderman

Anderman, chair of the department of educational studies at the Ohio State University in Columbus, says students might dislike a class because of the material or the instructor. Either way, professors can design their classes to reduce a student’s desire to cheat, he said.Cheating happens less in classes that focus on learning rather than memorizing, he says.

“If you think about it, it makes logical sense if a class is set up so that you have to demonstrate mastery ... of the content,” he says.“Cheating’s not going to buy you anything.”

When a student goes to class, and all they hear about is testing, “If you don’t do well on the test, you’ll never move on to the second level,” he says, “They cheat more often.”

Instead, if a professor administers a math test, she or he should avoid testing memorized formulas.Students might be so worried about memorizing that they resort to cheating to succeed.And the more they cheat, the more their learning will weaken, Anderman says.

The professor should provide the formulas, and test whether students know how to use them to solve complex problems.In the real world, many professionals use computer programs that have such formulas stored in them, Alderman said.

David Rettinger
David Rettinger

David Rettinger, associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, says cheating is so difficult to prevent, in part, because of the examples students see in the world around them.

“Cheating is deeply ingrained in our culture,” Rettinger says.“And when students look to politics, they look to business, and ... they see dishonesty being rewarded, it’s very difficult for those of us in higher education to make the argument that they should do things the right way.”

Rettinger says professors need to clearly explain the rules about cheating. For example, actions including plagiarism or copying the work of others will likely get a student kicked out of any college or university in the United States.

Understanding these rules can often be difficult for international students, Rettinger says. Education in some countries does not put the same importance on individual work or presenting original thoughts in writing projects. So some international students may be cheating without even knowing it.

But most of all, Rettinger argues, professors should explain that finding cheating acceptable can cause problems for students well after college.

“You can, perhaps, get a job by cheating,” Rettinger says, who is also a member of ICAI. “But you’re not going to keep that job. Over time, it’s going to become clear to the people you work with that you don’t really know what you’re doing.

“And so the knowledge that you claim to have isn’t going to present itself, and they’re going to be looking for someone who can actually do the things you say you can do.”

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