Is Cheating in College O.K.?

In light of the dynamic discussion going on over at Dwija Borobia’s blog regarding the subject of college education, I thought Catholic Exchange readers might enjoy this article about cheating in college by Allie Grasgreen. It says quite a bit not only about academic standards in modern America, but about our approach to education and our culture in general.

Before you click on the link, however, consider the following excerpts.

Eighty-four percent of students at a public research university believe students who cheat should be punished, yet two of every three admit to having cheated themselves. Most of the cheating students admit to involves homework, not tests, and they see academic misconduct applying differently to those two kinds of work.

The study takes place in Arizona, but evidence suggests the numbers would be roughly similar anywhere in America. And what are those numbers again? Two out of every three students admit to cheating!

The article goes on to concern itself with trying to locate blame for this among students, faculty and administration (resulting in an entertainingly bloody firefight in the combox).

The solution to cheating, as presented in the article, is frustratingly nebulous:

“It’s about communicating clearly in the classroom and spending time on the topic,” said Angela Baldasare, divisional manager of assessment and data analysis at the University of Arizona, about clarifying expectations and increasing the intrinsic values of assignments, “so that there’s something more to it than just a grade.”

The consensus among the experts is a similar haze of references to “better communication” and “setting clear goals,” as opposed to what ordinary, decent parents would say to their children: “Cheating is bad. It’s morally wrong. We’re supposed to be truthful and honest; do the best work you can and be happy in that.” I think the experts involved with the study would echo those sentiments if push came to shove, but more concern seems to lay with preserving students’ fragile egos then with instilling in them a love of virtue.

And that is what is really lurking behind all of this: an absence of virtue. Honesty, integrity, courage—these are not being raised to the status they deserve in our culture. Instead, merely succeeding is what we are driven and trained to do. As a result, the Arizona study…

…found the highest rates of cheating among fraternity and sorority members and international students, the latter of whom were most likely to use technology to cheat. Fewer than 10 percent of Arizona students said they’ve used technology to get answers during an exam, but more international than American students admitted to obtaining test answers online (21 versus 11 percent), having copied material from the Internet for a writing assignment without citing the source (23 versus 13 percent), and sending or receiving text messages during an exam (12 versus 3 percent). Cheating was reported least among students receiving need-based aid, and non-degree seeking and first-generation students. (The more education a student’s parents had, the more likely he or she was to have cheated.)

This is nauseating, of course. Can it really be remedied by an increase in stated expectations about plagiarism and not cheating?

Sure, a little. I actually like the idea, stated in the article, of a college planning light-hearted orientation workshops for students on what constitutes cheating and what the repercussions are. But, at the same time, doesn’t a college instructor have a right to expect that the roughly 18-25 year old adults who walk into their classroom already possess moral and ethical training and a sense of integrity?

One thing the study confirms: the modern college environment is such that the personal moral and ethical behavior of the student going into it will often decline. Measures can be taken to combat this, but the success of those measures depends on what kind of behavioral standards the students are used to, doesn’t it? Nobody’s perfect, of course: all college students need regular instruction and reminders about how to behave virtuously, and that is something in which a professor, ideally, should participate. Before any real change can happen, however, our entire culture needs a nearly one hundred eighty degree re-orientation towards what the purpose of a college education really is all about…and what makes for a truly successful human life.



Dan Lord


Dan Lord is the author of By the Downward Way (SalvO, 2014) and Choosing Joy (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012). His articles have appeared in Crisis, National Catholic Register, Catholic News Agency, and Fathers For Good and he is a national speaker on various topics. He blogs at That Strangest of Wars.

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  • Ykcpeggy

    Surely, you are referring to the cheating students and not the author of this article.  Our country is in the toilet because of people who cheat….people who don’t have enough integrity to do the right thing and only think of themselves.  Cheating hurts everyone in the long run. Someday they will be employees or employers or perhaps too lazy to get a job and prefer to get a government handout.  They will be the first to default on their student loan because they never took ownership of their of their future…they will always expect somebody else to do the work for them. Careful about casting the first stone…

  • QuoVadisAnima

    This issue can be even more “complex”.  I was trying to get thru my specific college degree program like a virtuous student seeking an authentic education – and could not understand why I was struggling to pass the tests that so many other students were making relatively easy ‘A’s’ on.

    Turned out that the frats & sororities all had copies of years to decades worth of previous tests.  So if you were part of those groups you had access to the info (& were also expected to contribute to their test database as well).  So why didn’t I just nark on these students to even out the playing field?  Because when the profs attempted to reduce the ability of these students to cheat on their tests, the frats/sororities simply assigned each of their members to memorize specific problems & report them afterward – and reproduced copies of the teachers’ tests in that way instead.

    Meanwhile, MANY of the profs in the state university I attended were totally incapable of teaching, but because they were doing high dollar research & publishing in national journals, they were highly desired by the university.  So we had cases like Dr. Paul Chu doing ground-breaking superconductor research – and flunking the vast majority of his physics students but for massive grade curves given to rescue most of them from failing the class.

    And then there is also the fact that my degree plan was so totally irrelevant & ineffective to my profession that the huge quantities of information that I was forced to memorize & then forget to make room for the next mass info download had little meaning or retainability.

    If we want to be able to expect students not to cheat on their education, it would help if the colleges weren’t cheating their students of their education first.

  • Matt B

    Cheating in college is OK, as long as it’s nothing important.

  • dennissinclair

    In high school students are taught that all moral viewpoints are equally valid (Moral equivalency), so they don’t see cheating as wrong.

  • Ykcpeggy

    We must not fall prey to secular relativism…we will surely self-destruct.

    Cheating is always wrong.It is stealing…’What part of “Thou shall not’ do you not understand?”…to coin a phrase.

    When you face God and He asks you if you cheated, do you think He will say, “It’s ok…after all, everbody else was doing it.  Come on in!” ?? That’s not what my Bible says. A lot of people are murdering others…but that doesn’t make it right. A sin is a sin, my friend.

    Go to a devout Catholic college if you want honest professors.  Ave Maria, University of Dallas, Franciscan University…  


  • QuoVadisAnima

    My point was NOT to say that cheating is justified.  The fact is that the current system is rewarding cheaters & penalizing the virtuous and it needs to be fixed!!

  • Editor

    QuoVadisAnima: I really love all the extra insights and details you supplied, especially regarding your experiences of the structured system of cheating maintained by certain fraternities and sororities. Thanks for commenting.