A Cheating Situation

With online courses and overcrowded classes, cheating in college is easier than ever

| August 15, 2012

Note: For what should be obvious reasons, students' names have been changed for this piece.

"Jane" was elated when she received her admissions letter to her first-choice college. She'd been working toward this moment for the better part of her high school years, and now the reward was in her hands. When she arrived at her dorm, and as her parents tearfully said goodbye, Jane vowed to work hard to get the most out of her college experience.

But just three weeks into her first semester, Jane became overwhelmed with assignments, upcoming tests, her part-time job and getting around in her new town. One night, when even breaking down in tears seemed too mentally taxing, a ding sounded from Jane's email. Upon opening the email, like a beacon of hope, she found the answers to her first online biology quiz. Without so much as an ethical question mark popping over her head, Jane used the answers for the quiz and received a more than passing grade. That night she slept better than ever since starting college, and by the end of her first semester, she not only passed all of her classes but learned all about the dirty secret of cheating.

Before you ask, the answer is no, I am not Jane.

When I started college, cheating was merely a concept to me, and not an attractive one. If the ethical questions surrounding cheating weren't enough, the threatened consequences were. Yet coming to the end of my college career, I've learned a thing or two about how a good majority of my fellow students survive college. They drink a lot of caffeine. They pull all-nighters around finals week—sometimes with chemical help. They beg for extra-credit assignments when panic sinks in a couple weeks before the end of the semester. And sometimes they cheat on a test.

At this point, with the spread of information online, cheating is almost as traditional to the college experience as fall football games or your first kegger at Phi Sigma Kappa.

"Technology has restructured the way courses are taught," says "Austin," a former Santa Rosa Junior College student who will be going to Berkeley in the fall. Students no longer have to go to school to go to school. Online classes, exams and lectures make creating a schedule easier—and render cheating rampant.

Austin, who objects to a heavy reliance on online education, nonetheless makes no qualms about cutting corners in these classes. "I took an online class in high school, and on exams I could just pull up another tab," he says, "and look up the answer."


The news that cheating occurs on college campuses isn't groundbreaking. But the ways in which students are cheating is. "I've caught students looking up test answers on their smartphones," says "Diane," a Santa Rosa Junior College professor. "As an instructor, you have to constantly be monitoring it."

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