Relationship between Student Characteristics and Ethics: Implications for Educators

Article excerpt

This study examines the relationship between student characteristics and level of ethics. The characteristics studied are: competitiveness, personality type, age, gender and major. An instrument to measure the level of ethics is developed and a model involving these five variables is tested using a sample of 345 college students. Results show that i) ethics is inversely related to individual competitiveness and Type A personality, ii) ethics improves with age, iii) gender does not impact ethics, and that iv) level of ethics differs across majors. Based on the results, teaching strategies for educators to improve students' ethics level are presented. Implications to student advisement are also discussed.

Reports on ethical lapses by personnel in business, government, science, religious and educational communities are on the rise (Brockett et al., 1997). Based on the number of incidents appearing in the media almost on a daily basis, one wonders if the news agencies exaggerate or whether the ethical values are indeed declining. The pressure to perform in the workplace is higher than ever before. Circumstances can sweep away the ethical principles of even the most well-intentioned worker. With the desire to produce quick results, the modern worker can easily compromise on ethical principles, Unfortunately, some fall victim to temptation more easily than others causing irreparable harm not only to their business but to the very moral fabric of the society itself.

Since colleges and universities supply the majority of the professional workforce, they can play a pivotal role in improving the ethical standards in organizations. Teaching students of proper attitudes, values and integrity is an important function of higher education (Bligh et al., 2000). Yet, many universities continue to place undue emphasis on skill sets alone and relegate other personal characteristics such as ethics to the background. Today, a student majoring in business spends 95% of the time at college learning techniques to maximize wealth (Lindsay, 2002). On an average, colleges devote only a half-semester course towards teaching ethics. This needs to change. Educators need to take an active role in building and nurturing an ethical culture among students.

One of the goals of educators is to graduate students who would act ethically once they join their intended professions. They should be the kinds of professionals who will recognize and report unethical acts rather than look the other way. We would like our graduates to acquire a strong sense of right and wrong. Students need to internalize the ethical values they learn at school and also have skills in resolving ethical dilemmas in practice after they are out of school (Sheel and Collins. 1997: Kizior, 2000). Hence, universities must prepare students to deal with potentially conflicting situations involving clients' interests vs. personal gains that they will encounter in their professional life and be cultured to adopt morally responsible and ethical decisions. There is evidence to suggest that students do perceive benefit from ethics courses (Leipzig, 1998). In teaching ethics, however, universities should keep in mind that students are not a homogeneous group in regard to their level of ethics (Kibler, 1993). Understanding the various factors that influence ethics is important in devising appropriate teaching strategies that match the individual student needs. In this research, we postulate that individual characteristics form one such important factor.

Objective

The purpose of this study is to identify the relationship between personal characteristics and the level of ethics. Specifically, the study answers the questions: i) What specific individual characteristics are related to the ethical compass of a student? (ii) In what manner and degree do these factors impact on the level of ethics? (iii) How can one evaluate the level of ethics of students? (iv) What strategies can educators use to improve the level of ethics among students? …