Although significant attention has been devoted to academic fraud, the presenting of someone else’s work as one’s own, at online higher education institutions, and rightfully so, more focus is needed at brick and mortar colleges and universities, including prestigious higher education institutions. Dominant media accounts of academic fraud have concentrated on National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I student-athletes, especially black male student-athletes.
Undergraduate and graduate students, including high-achieving ones, in the general student population need equal, if not more, monitoring for academic fraud. Ensuring academic honesty in higher education is a matter of protecting the public trust in the value of a degree.
How serious are American colleges and universities about protecting the public trust in the value of a degree when close to half of undergraduate and graduate students across the nation admit to committing academic fraud?
In “Stop Students Who Cheat Before They Become Cheating Professors,” published by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2016, Brigitte Vittrup, associate professor of child development at Texas Woman’s University, cited empirical research that exposed this close to half of American undergraduate and graduate students across the nation admit to academic fraud. While it is troubling such a large percentage of American college and university students commit academic fraud, graduate students, including doctoral students, deserve more sunlight on them.
As Vittrup divulges, these individuals, once they graduate, are eligible to become professors. This, unfortunately, leads to some frauds being hired as professors, even at elite institutions. For example, if one of these frauds is able to graduate with a doctoral degree from University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the top higher education institutions in the world, he or she can wield the power of a doctoral degree from such a reputable, world-class university, to land a position as a professor at a college or university.
Hiring frauds as professors exacerbates a culture of academic dishonesty in American higher education. As someone who has worked in prestigious higher education institutions for over 18 years in various capacities, including teaching undergraduate and graduate students, I have a strong understanding of how vital it is to value academic honesty and fight against academic dishonesty. To combat prevalent academic dishonesty at colleges and universities across the nation, professors and administrators must conceive the alarming percentage of students committing academic fraud as a national crisis in higher education.
Professors must require students to complete more assignments inside of the classroom, especially written assignments. Simply using and investing in plagiarism detection software is not a responsible approach to addressing academic dishonesty. When a student has someone else to write his or her paper, plagiarism detection software will not detect this academic fraud.
Professors can assign students to compose smaller writing assignments in class, and this can help to reduce academic fraud. It will function as a deterrent, considering many students will feel less confident about submitting a paper someone has written for him or her when he or she has turned in papers penned in a different voice and of a substantively lower quality.
To support professors’ efforts to thwart academic fraud, higher education administrators must supply more preventative education and resources for students to avoid academic fraud. When students engage in academic dishonesty, administrators must impose severe penalties. All students need to know these penalties on the first day of class, and then hold them accountable.
In short, higher education leaders need to begin a national discourse about ameliorating current approaches to preventing and sanctioning academic dishonesty. Failing to act is complicity. For those who work in higher education, especially those of us who teach in higher education, we must protect the value of a degree. Professors and administrators must become more effective custodians of the public trust, and this improvement starts with developing and implementing innovative strategies to tackle academic dishonesty.
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