Why Do College Students Cheat

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Journal of Business Ethics Forthcoming

Mark G. Simkin Accounting & Information Systems University of Nevada, Reno simkin@unr.edu Alexander McLeod Accounting & Information Systems University of Nevada, Reno amcleod@unr.edu ABSTRACT. More is known about the pervasiveness of college cheating than reasons why students cheat. This paper reports the results of a study that applied the theory of reasoned action and partial least squares methodology to analyze the responses of 144 students to a survey on cheating behavior. Approximately 60% of the business students and 64% of the non-business students admitted to such behavior. Among cheaters, a “desire to get ahead” was the most important motivating factor—a surprising result given the comprehensive set of factors tested in the study. Among non-cheaters, the presence of a “moral anchor” such as an ethical professor was most important. The paper also includes a set of important caveats that might limit this work and suggests some avenues for further study. Key Words: cheating, ethical behavior, student dishonesty, student misconduct Introduction On April 27, 2007, the Dean of the Fuqua College of Business at Duke University announced that 24 students—nearly 10 percent of the graduating class of 2008—had been caught cheating on a final exam (Conlin, 2007). A year later, the school was still dealing with the fallout from the incident, which included expelling the guilty students, readmitting and counseling the suspended ones, and dealing with the national attention garnered by the event (Damast, 2008). A large body of research suggests that the student cheating uncovered at Duke is not an isolated event, but rather a microcosm of a pervasive and growing part of worldwide university activity. However, while a large number of individuals and organizations express concern for such trends, less is known about what to do about it or, more importantly, how to reverse it. The purpose of our research was to study this problem in greater depth. In particular, we wanted to test the hypothesis that the theory of reasoned action can explain cheating behavior, detect its most important causal influences, and identify what factors motivate students to cheat. We also wanted to know what factors are most likely to deter students from cheating—a very real and important objective to teaching faculty. The next section of this paper discusses student cheating in greater depth, identifies the major stakeholders in the problem, and explains why cheating is important to them. In turn, the third section of the paper discusses the theory of reasoned action, presents our hypotheses, and describes the partial-least-squares methodology we used to test them. The fourth section

2 presents our results, the fifth section presents some caveats and directions for further research, and the last section summarizes our discussions and presents our conclusions. Literature Review Why is cheating important? A variety of interested parties and stakeholders agree that cheating at the college level has become problematic. Who are these interested parties and why their concern? The Importance of College Cheating Perhaps of greatest import is the fact that cheating in college classes is now best described as “rampant.” A meta study by Whitley (1998), for example, found that across 46 studies, an average of 70.4% of the college students have cheated in college. In newer studies (Klien, Levenburg, McKendall, & Mothersell, 2007; McCabe, Butterfield, & Trevino, 2006; Rokovski & Levy, 2007), the means were 70%, 86%, and 60%, respectively. Viewed in an historical perspective, there is also considerable evidence that college cheating is growing (Rokovski & Levy, 2007). A study by Bowers (1964), for example, found that only 26% of students admitted to some form of copying in college, compared to 52% in a similar study conducted in 1994 (McCabe & Bowers, 1994). Similarly, Ogilby (1995) found that...
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