Academic Misconduct in Undergraduate Teacher Education Students and Its Relationship to Their Principled Moral Reasoning

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was (a) to investigate preservice teacher education students' (n=145) performance on the Academic Misconduct Survey (AMS), a measure of self-reported academic misconduct, and (b) to examine the relationship between AMS scores and scores on the Defining Issues Test (DIT), a measure of principled moral reasoning. A large percentage of participants reported engaging in academic misconduct. No significant association between scores on the AMS and the DIT was found. Results of the study indicate the need for additional research that examines ethical behaviors and moral reasoning in prospective and practicing teachers.


Over the past 50 years, numerous studies have reported that cheating, academic dishonesty, and other forms of academic misconduct among college students appear to be the rule rather than the exception, and the "deviant" student has been described as one who has not engaged in academic misconduct at one time or another (Hollinger & Lanza-Kaduce, 1996).

Research interest in college student cheating began in the early 1960s when Bowers (1964) surveyed more than 5,000 undergraduate students at 99 different institutions. Bowers found that three out of four students admitted to various kinds of academic dishonesty, such as plagiarism, copying another student's test answers, sneaking crib notes into exams, collaborating with other students on homework assignments when not permitted by the instructor, or lying to the instructor about reasons for late papers. McCabe and Trevino (1993) found similar results in a survey of over 6,000 undergraduate students at 31 campuses. Two of three of those surveyed admitted engaging in questionable academic behaviors, such as using unauthorized crib notes on a test, copying from another student on a test, or collaborating with other students on homework assignments without instructor approval. More recent studies consistently report rates of cheating over 70 percent (see Chidley, 1997; Hollinger & Lanza-Kaduce, 1996; Lupton, Chapman, & Weiss, 2000) with cheating behaviors similar to those described by Bowers (see Hollinger & Lanza-Kaduce, 1996; Lupton, Chapman, & Weiss, 2000; Tang & Zuo, 1997; Thorpe, Pittenger, & Reed, 1999).

Causes of College Student Cheating

Investigations of specific causes of academic dishonesty usually are divided into two categories: (a) studies that focus on situational and institutional factors, and (b) studies that focus on individual traits of students.

Situational and Institutional Factors

A number of situational and institutional factors associated with academic misconduct have been identified. Students most likely to cheat have lower academic standing, are more concerned about attaining high grades than gaining knowledge, and are enrolled in larger rather than smaller institutions (Bowers, 1964; Nowell, & Laufer, 1997; Smith, Nolan, & Dai, 1998; Tang, & Zuo, 1997; Thorpe, Pittenger, & Reed, 1999). Also, rates of cheating are higher when instructors trust students to be honest, and rates are lower when students perceive a strong threat of being caught and punished (Hollinger & Lanza-Kaduce, 1996). Finally, students who attend college to obtain a credential or license are more inclined to cheat than those who attend for other reasons (Daniel, Blount, & Ferrell, 1991; McCabe & Trevino, 1996; Stern & Havlicek, 1986). According to McCabe and Trevino (1996),

Today's college students ... have come to college to get a credential-a credential that will allow them to pursue a chosen career. How they get that credential is often less important than simply getting it. As a student at a major university ... said to us, "It's amazing how many students don't think twice about cheating or copying others' work. It shows how little they understand what an education really is. …