The Plagiarism Epidemic: Copy and Pasting your Education


Cheating By College Students

By Elanor Layne

Today’s student body is the most technologically-fluent generation to enter the realm of higher education. Current students are blessed with the most advanced digital systems society has seen, custom-designed to aid their learning and development.

But the computer revolution has brought with it an epidemic of institutional proportions – plagiarism is rampant throughout North American college campuses, and some have even turned it into a profitable business.

Cheating is Widespread

A Rutgers University study [1] into academic integrity surveyed 80,000 students at colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada, unearthing that 36% of undergraduate students admit they have either taken part in, or seen another student, copy sentences from online sites without providing citations, then handing over the work as their own – 69% of faculty reported the same. Just 7% of students admitted they have handed in written assignments which were completed by somebody else, while 45% of faculty reported observing this behavior.

Of course, the falsification of assignments and cheating on tests has existed for as long as the industry of education has, but the internet has provided college students with a plethora of resources to make it easier than ever to acquire plagiarized content. The last decade has seen a steep increase in essay writing services, with professional-grade writers completing assignments for a fee. Known as “essay mills” who charge anything from $5 to $50 per page.

What pushes the average college student to pay somebody else to do the dirty work for them? With the rise in tuition bills and university living costs, many students find themselves pushed to hold down jobs while balancing their studies, slashing their free time and affecting their ability to turn in work on time. For assigned projects with a short turnaround, the stress only becomes greater. The American Psychological Association (AMA) [2] states that “the increasing amount of pressure on students to succeed academically – in efforts to get into good colleges, graduate schools and eventually land good jobs – tends to be one of the biggest drivers of cheating’s proliferation.”

AMA determines cheating is “contagious,” as is more likely to spread through groups, ultimately becoming widespread and acceptable behavior.

“Several studies show that students who are more motivated than their peers by performance are more likely to cheat.”

As online essay writing services have grown, as have internet plagiarism checkers, working to quash the Copyscape.cominfringement trend. For students brave enough to pass off fraudulent work, sites like Copyscape exist to scan and access content in seconds, alerting educators of the existence of copied work. Some colleges require students to hand in two versions of their completed assignments, one paper and one electronic. The paper copy is marked and returned, while the electronic copy is checked online for signs of borrowed sentences.

The consequences of being caught handing in plagiarized work can be dire, with students facing removal from a single class or having their place within the university revoked. When copyright-protected content is used, students could even be sued by the original author – but the likelihood of that is very minimal, as plagiarism within the college environment is considered to be an academic crime, rather than a federal one. Regardless, institutions still constitute it as fraud, and often drop students to protect their own integrity.

  1. Donald L. McCabe/Rutgers University – “Cheating Among College and University Students”
  1. The American Psychological Association – “Beat the Cheat”





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