Study: Cheating Is Way of Life for Some Students Use Society to Measure Dishonesty

Article excerpt

Byline: Doug Gross, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- When 187 students were accused of cheating at Georgia Tech this month, plenty of heads turned.

The suspiciously similar work of students in two computer-programming classes was called a major academic scandal at one of the nation's most respected engineering schools.

If the students are guilty, they're not alone.

Surveys from the past few years show that most college students have cheated in some way and that the percentage of students who admit to cheating is on the rise.

The reasons for the increase are many, experts say, including tougher academic standards, easy access to information on the Internet and a perceived decline in ethics.

"Students just watch what's happening in the larger society," said Don McCabe, a Rutgers University professor who has studied cheating. "They see the deterioration of ethics . . . and say, 'With everything that's going on on Wall Street or in politics, what's wrong with a little bit of cheating?' "

In 1993, McCabe surveyed thousands of students at nine mid-size universities where similar surveys had been conducted in 1963.

In his study, 52 percent of students said they had cheated in some way on an exam, compared with 26 percent in 1963.

Keesha Warmsby, a University of Georgia sophomore, said she doesn't cheat and that most of her friends don't either.

But she knows that it goes on. Just last semester, she watched as two classmates appeared to pass notes during a multiple-choice test.

"It looked real suspicious," said the international business major from Dunwoody.

She considered e-mailing her professor, but since she couldn't prove anything, she decided against it.

At Georgia Tech, the 187 students were accused of cheating when school officials discovered that they may have collaborated on a class project.

The students -- mostly freshmen and sophomores -- are accused of sharing computer code information in two computer programming classes. A review panel of faculty members and students is investigating the case.

The apparent cheating was discovered with a Georgia Tech computer program that compares students' work.

Georgia Tech has long been known for its high level of competition and tough standards. But at all Georgia colleges and universities, getting good grades is more important than ever.

With the HOPE scholarship, many students get free tuition, books and housing as long as they keep a B average.

Warmsby said that could lead some of her classmates to cut corners if they are on the verge of losing their free ride.

"I totally understand that . . . [but] I don't sympathize with anybody that's in that boat," she said. "If it's that important to you, you probably would have started out doing the right thing."

McCabe said such high-stakes situations can push a potential cheater over the edge.

INTERNET'S ALLURE

There are plenty of other factors.

McCabe notes that a larger percentage of the population goes to college now than in the 1960s. As a result, more students may be unprepared and tempted to cut corners just to keep up.

And according to McCabe, some students say they cheat because they know others are doing it and professors aren't doing much to stop it. Not joining in, they say, would put them at a disadvantage.

"A lot of them suggest to me . . . that if the teacher stopped the other students, they would stop too," he said. "They say, 'I'm only cheating out of self-defense.' "

And advancements in technology have brought new ways to cheat.

The Internet offers no shortage of Web sites where students can purchase pre-written term papers on anything from Shakespeare to the history of the soft drink industry. …

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