Dr. Keith McClung walked over to answer a question for one of his students at Radford University in Virginia. She was in the middle of taking her final exam. When he reached her desk, he saw answers to the exam written on her hand.
“The university found out it was her third offense and kicked her out of the college,” he said. “Two days before graduation, she was a fourth year. She had a B in the class, all she had to do was pass the exam. It was like what were you thinking?”
McClung, now a Wartburg biology professor, said he uses that story as an example for his classes on the dangers and consequences of cheating. Although Radford University’s policy is much stricter than Wartburg’s, colleges across the country are starting to crack down on cheating.
A study by Kessler International found nine in 10 students admit to cheating in some way while at college. More than half of those students thought cheating was OK and some said it was a necessity to stay competitive in classes. Many students, 97 percent, said they cheated and got away with it.
Three professors at Wartburg said the most common form of cheating they come across is plagiarism. McClung, Terrence Lindell and Joyce Boss said it usually comes from freshmen who are still learning how to attribute properly.
“We’re still teaching them what plagiarism is,” McClung said. “There’s the minor problem of not referencing material well, so usually that’s handled with maybe a loss of a few points and corrections of how to do it properly.”
Lindell also lets some things slide with freshmen. He allows them to rewrite the paper as a learning exercise. But he also said he’s had students who clearly knew they were plagiarizing and paid the consequences, which is failing.
“I have failed maybe 15-20 people over the course of my 33 years here. So it’s not a real common event. Many fail due to plagiarism, but I’ve had several students fail because they were cheating on exams or quizzes,” Lindell said.
But not all students are cheating. One student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said he never cheated throughout high school or college. He said he was raised not to cheat and knew if he prepared in the right ways, he would do well.
As a college student, he’s been around cheating. He said most students cheat during tests by looking at their phones underneath the table or looking off other people’s tests. Another student who wished to remain anonymous said she’s received folders with old assignments from upperclassmen. The folders continue to get passed down to students who take courses like Bio 151 or RE 101.
The male student had one situation where some students stole his assignment.
“Some of my classmates asked me to send them my Excel project and I thought they were just going to use it as a guide to help them finish,” he explained. “But one student just turned in my exact project and the other made a few changes, but it was still really obvious.”
He said he ended up getting a 50 percent on the assignment while the other two students received zeros.
At Wartburg, the student handbook explains the policy for academic dishonesty. It states the professor has full authority in choosing how to handle a case of academic dishonesty. Some options are failing the student in the course or failing them on the specific assignment or test.
The policy at Harvard University, where some students were forced to leave, is much stricter. In 2012, the university discovered around 125 students worked in groups on a take-home final, after they were instructed to work alone. The students were investigated by the Harvard College Administrative Board. Of those 125 students, 70 were forced out.
Dan Kittle, dean of students, said there have been no widespread issues of cheating at Wartburg.
All three professors agreed they hate to see students cheating. Boss said she believes cheating disrespects the student as well as the professors.
“It makes me feel bad for the student because it’s so stupid,” she said. “It goes back to students saying they need to get a good grade. I think that’s a really immature, unsophisticated attitude.”
McClung said cheating tends to upset most professors because it hurts the student’s reputation as well as Wartburg’s.
“A lot of students have built very good reputations for Wartburg college and we’re not happy to see cheating,” he said. “We know that’s not what we’re teaching here and that’s not what we want to see graduating from here.”