Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

A Multidimensional Scaling of College Students' Perceptions of Academic Dishonesty

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

A Multidimensional Scaling of College Students' Perceptions of Academic Dishonesty

Article excerpt

Academic integrity is one of the fundamental values of higher education. And yet cheating on tests and other forms of academic dishonesty are rampant, with McCabe (1993) concluding that "student cheating is pervasive" (p. 648) and others claiming that it is "reaching epidemic proportions" (Desruisseaux, 1999, p. A45). At first glance, it appears that the percentage of students who report engaging in some type of cheating behavior varies extensively across studies. For example, in a review by Whitley (1998), prevalence rates of academic dishonesty range from 9% to 95%. And Jendrek (1992) summarized that the percentage of students who have self-reported engaging in some form of academic dishonesty has ranged from 40% to 90%. A closer look, however, reveals consistent estimates of cheating of well over 50% at both the high school and college level.

Most of the research on prevalence has been conducted at the college level, with a moderate amount also done with high school students and much less so with elementary school students. Cizek (1999) summarizes the research by concluding that "approximately one third of elementary-school-aged students report cheating personally and ... [they] believe cheating by others is even more frequent" (p. 15). At the high school level, "a high percentage of admitted cheating is a consistent finding" (p. 16) and at the college level it is "remarkably and uniformly high" (p. 21). Moreover, not only has the percentage of students who report engaging in some form of cheating behavior remained consistently high over the past fifty years, it has also been suggested that it is an underestimate of actual cheating rates (Allen, Fuller, & Luckett, 1998; Scheers & Dayton, 1987) since the majority of the data has been gathered through surveys, in particular self-report surveys.

In addition to prevalence, which has been the most widely studied aspect of academic dishonesty, much research has examined the reasons students give for cheating (e.g., grades, competition, difficulty of the task, time commitment). The correlates of cheating have also received attention, with research focusing on such issues as demographic differences (e.g., gender, achievement, age, fraternity/sorority membership), personality and other psychological constructs (e.g., moral reasoning, attitudes toward cheating), and environmental/situational factors (e.g., class size, proctoring concerns, opportunity to cheat). Reviews of much of this research can be found in Cizek (1999) and Whitley (1998).

Institutional and faculty response has also been a subject of research. For example, although faculty members report that they do not tolerate academic dishonesty, the research reveals that they do little or nothing in response to such behavior. This is particularly alarming when it is clear that faculty have a unique opportunity to affect a student's understanding of academic standards and integrity (Gehring & Pavela, 1994), and a student's perception of a faculty member's response may affect his or her decision whether or not to cheat (Fass, 1986).

Definitions of Academic Dishonesty

Perhaps these issues are neglected, in part, because there is no commonly accepted, standard definition of what constitutes academic dishonesty. It appears deceptively easy to provide a definition of cheating. For example, according to Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (1983), cheating is defined as "the act of defrauding by deceitful means" (p. 308). However, it is far more difficult to arrive at agreement as to the particular behaviors that could be classified as cheating, not to mention examining the dimensions that people use in arriving at that classification (e.g., seriousness of offense, justification).

Previous research has made implicit assumptions regarding academic integrity, the definitions of academic dishonesty, and the perceived seriousness of various cheating behaviors. …

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