Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Testing the Effectiveness of the University Honor Code

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Testing the Effectiveness of the University Honor Code

Article excerpt


University students often cheat. Depending on circumstances, the rate of cheating among college students varies between 13% and 95% (McCabe and Trevino, 1993). This paper examines the effect of including an Honor Code in an accounting quiz on students' inclination to cheat. It contributes to the literature by relying on test scores rather than surveys or other methodologies that can influence students' behavior; in addition, it focuses on the immediate effect of signing an Honor Code on students' quiz scores. We find that the mere inclusion of an Honor Code significantly reduces the instances of cheating, but having students write why academic integrity is important has no significant effect on their behavior.

Previous research shows that students cheat for a variety of reasons. In an early study, Drake (1941) proposes that cheating becomes an "expedient way to achieve some desired goal and, at the same time, to avoid some of the unpleasant punitive consequences that attend failure." Using a controlled experiment, he shows that weaker students and members of a fraternity are more likely to cheat. In general, students with a low grade point average (GPA) are more likely to cheat than students with a high GPA and younger students are more likely to cheat than older students (Kerkvliet and Sigmund, 1999).

Though most students consider cheating to be wrong, many of them rationalize their behavior by blaming their teacher, workload, or other obstacles to justify their unethical behavior (Murdock and Stephens, 2007). O'Rourke et al (2010) conclude that lax attitudes about cheating, direct knowledge of cheating by others, and neutralizing attitudes all increase the probability of cheating. Neutralizing attitudes are the beliefs that cheating does not matter because everyone does it or because the material is not important. Miller, Shoptaugh, and Wooldridge (2011) find that students who said they would not cheat out of fear of getting caught are more likely to cheat than students who said that they would not cheat because of personal character or the value that they place on learning.

While some studies conclude that males are more likely to cheat (Marsden, Carroll, and Neill, 2005; and Hendershott, Drinan, and Cross, 1999), other studies assert that females cheat more often than males (Graham, etc., 1994). Marsden, Carroll, and Neill (2005) find that students who are younger (under 25) and attend school full-time have a higher grade orientation while students who are older and/or study science have a higher learning orientation. Thus, younger, full-time students may be more concerned about their grades and are therefore more likely to cheat while older students and science majors are generally more concerned about what they learning and are therefore less likely to cheat.

Frequency of cheating varies by discipline. Business students are more inclined to cheat than the general student population. Studies show that business students cheat on average 18% more in undergraduate school and 9% more in graduate school (Bowers, 1964; McCabe and Trevino, 1993; McCabe, 1997; and McCabe, Butterfield, and Trevino, 2006). Frank, Gilovich, and Regan (1993) study the effects of an introductory economics course on business students and find that over the course of a semester students become more willing to engage in unethical behavior in order to achieve a higher degree of self-interested results. Business schools are sometimes accused of teaching bottom-line principles with the sole interest of profit (Ghoshal, 2005). Although Ghoshal's assertion is often disputed, it merits attention since losses from occupational dishonesty and fraud are estimated to approach $1 trillion annually (ACFE, 2010).

McCabe, Trevino, and Butterfield (1996) study the effects of a university Honor Code on ethics in the workplace. They find that students who attend a university that has an established Honor Code become more honest employees. …

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