Academic and Professional Dishonesty: Student Views of Cheating in the Classroom and on the Job

By Shipley, Linda J. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Academic and Professional Dishonesty: Student Views of Cheating in the Classroom and on the Job


Shipley, Linda J., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


Early studies of academic dishonesty discovered that a large percentage of college students admitted they cheated. Since then, additional studies found even higher numbers of students who report that they cheat, and those students indicate that stress related to getting good grades is a driving factor. In recent years, several incidents have involved journalists caught cheating. Are student views of academic and professional dishonesty connected? This study looks at how journalism and mass communication students view both academic and professional dishonesty.

Nearly ten years ago, U.S. News &* World Report released results of a poll that indicated 84% of college students said they needed to cheat in order to get ahead in the world. Results also indicated that over 90% of college students said politicians cheat often. When asked who else they thought were cheaters, 90% of them said the mass media and high school students.1

That same report presented findings from a Who's Who Among American High School Students study showing 80% of high-achieving high school students admitted to having cheated at least once, with half saying they did not believe cheating was necessarily wrong. In addition, 95% of cheaters said they had never been caught. The U.S. News & World Report poll also indicated that 90% of college students believed cheaters never pay the price, while that same percentage also indicated that when they see someone cheating, they don't turn him/her in.2

These studies were completed before the Jayson Blair (the New York Times), Jack Kelley (USA Today), and Dan Rather (CBS News) incidents raised questions about the ethics of journalists.3 They also were published before the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism reported "allegations of cheating" on a final exam in its ethics course, at least four college newspapers reported plagiarism incidents in one year, and San Jose State University students were caught using spell-check on their laptops when part of the exam was designed to test their ability to spell.4

These studies of academic cheating and incidents of professional dishonesty raise three questions worthy of study: Are there connections between cheating in the classroom and in the newsroom? Are students who cheat in college likely to carry over their dishonest habits to their professional life? Are there differences in how journalism and mass communication majors view academic vs. professional dishonesty? These types of questions have received little attention to date in the journalism and mass communication literature.

This study was designed to look at these questions to determine how journalism and mass communication majors view cheating in the classroom and on the job. In addition, it was the researcher's hope that this study's results could provide journalism and mass communication programs with a baseline of views about cheating that could be used as an assessment tool in media ethics courses.

Literature Review

Leading experts in academic dishonesty research report that cheating among college students is frequent and growing.5 In addition, ten major studies completed between 1964 and 2002 indicate that the level of cheating differs by college major and that the percentage of undergraduates reporting cheating is highest for those enrolled in "vocationally oriented majors."6

In the early 1960s, a Columbia University sociologist conducted a landmark study of cheating among college students. Bowers surveyed more than 5,000 students on 99 campuses and reported that at least half of the students reported engaging in some form of academic dishonesty since coming to college, and he indicated that he thought that finding was conservative. He also indicated that students' college peers probably had the most powerful effect on their attitude toward cheating.7

In a 1993 follow-up study, McCabe and Trevino surveyed students on nine campuses included in the earlier Bowers study. …

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