Hundreds of American colleges and universities rely on international students. They can because the worldwide appeal of a U.S. education is strong, especially at the top-end, brand name schools.
At the same time, domestic schools do compete with other nations for the pool of high-achieving, full-tuition-paying students – the U.K., Australia and Germany are also highly attractive education destinations for eager, globe trotting pupils.
Given the reliance on foreign investment in American colleges and the competition for it, it’s profoundly inexplicable that American institutions and policy makers are so behind and backwards on dealing with an issue that threatens to unravel the quality of, and interest in, American colleges – academic integrity, which is to say cheating.
America’s two most consistent competitors for international students – the U.K. and Australia – discuss cheating openly, they acknowledge the threat it poses to their schools and to the value of the degrees those schools award. Government leaders and educational oversight bodies in both countries are vocal, active and assertive in addressing the problems of academic misconduct. They not only incentivize schools to be vigilant but combat the profiteering enterprises and companies that sell cheating. Some of those companies, especially some based here in the United States, outright sell on-demand answers to assignments and exams, sell exam questions and answer sheets, write essays on demand or take entire online classes or degree programs in place of actual students.
Paying for cheating is known as contract cheating. And here, schools pretend to not notice. They feign ignorance or say they’re overwhelmed by the size and sophistication of cheating. But most often they say nothing at all and do even less. Not all schools. But too many.
Dr. Tricia Bertram Gallant is the Director of the Academic Intergrity Office at the University of California, San Diego. She probably knows more about cheating and academic integrity than anyone, at least in this country. “The U.S. and Canada are far behind two countries in particular – the U.K. and Australia,” she said, adding that those nations, “have been able to hold a national anti-contract cheating conversation, which can slow down or even counter the growing narrative that contract cheating is normal and acceptable.”
“In the U.S. and Canada,” Bertram Gallant said, “each college and university is left to try to fight the [cheating] industry on our own and the majority of higher education institutions in North America don’t even sufficiently resource academic integrity. Obviously, this is not a winnable or sustainable strategy.”
That’s true. And, as mentioned, many American schools aren’t even willing to talk about cheating, let alone fight it.
Two examples come to mind this week alone. In one, CBS News ran a national story on American students paying writers in Kenya to do college work in American universities – contract cheating. CBS interviewed a few Kenyans who said that not only are they paid to write essays for American schools, they complete entire online courses and degree programs for money, logging in to remote systems and doing work in the name of students.
One interviewee showed the CBS reporter how easy it was to cheat American academics, opening his laptop and logging into the courses, assignments and work of an American student. During the demonstration, it was possible to tell that the school being cheated was Florida International University (FIU). Not only did the courses listed match the FIU catalogue, an FIU logo was visible in an open browser tab.
Asked to comment on the story, that someone in Kenya being paid to do FIU coursework for a student, the school initially said they had not seen the story and was not sure how they were involved. But after directing them to the matching course numbers and school logo on the cheater’s laptop, the school stopped responding entirely – declining repeated requests for comment or to say what, if anything, they were doing about it.
FIU isn’t alone. A separate recent news story on the rise of cheating in Ohio noted that, “Capital University said it tracks academic conduct but when [the TV station] requested to see the numbers, it claims, ‘as a private institution, we would not release that information,’”
There’s no survey or resource for tracking what schools do and do not share information about cheating and misconduct – or whether they even acknowledge it. Cheating is happening at every school, at every level, in every subject. But in The States, it’s as if cheating simply doesn’t exist.
That’s a problem because, if we can’t admit the problem and discuss it, we can’t solve it. Worse, research on academic integrity shows that denying it, not talking about cheating actually encourages it.
Inaction and inattention on cheating aren’t mere academic concerns in the loose sense – there are actual consequences and actual victims.
“We need to courageously proclaim together, as a higher education system and as countries, that the contract cheating industry is reprehensible because its only purpose is to take advantage and make money off of desperate students by promising them shortcuts to the learning and education process,” Bertram Gallant said.
Even more, Bertram Gallant said, “Left unaddressed, the industry will have a devasting impact on the value of a higher education degree and our promise of an educated and ethical citizenry.”
With so many schools in actual competition with schooling alternatives in the U.K. and Australia, continuing to ignore academic misconduct and contract cheating does not feel, as Bertram Gallant says, “sustainable.” At least not for long.
In the near term, American schools may lure foreign students because it’s easy to cheat here – no one is looking and no one cares. But, as that “devastating impact on the value of higher education degree” in America takes root, international students with choices won’t invest in American degrees that can simply be bought online. Not when they have better options.
In other words, a three monkeys approach to cheating that many American schools and policy makers take – not seeing it, not hearing about it, not speaking about it – isn’t a strategy. It’s a suicide pact.