Cheating economy reveals deeper problem

An underground economy of cheating and “professional” writing is at your fingertips — at the price of academic integrity and guilt, of course. As higher education continues to add stress to students looking for academic perfection, an industry of high-level cheating is on the rise, allowing students to pay hundreds to thousands of dollars in exchange for customized essays, homework solutions or online-exam testing. While academic fraud has long existed in the scholastic milieu, businesses are using the student desperation for a diploma as a tactic to slowly grow a cheating economy.

This type of work puts heavy emphasis on “contract cheating.” Contract cheating operates by allowing students to complete academic work as if they had created the work themselves, by paying dues to a third party, who then produces the work for the student. Even more so, the industry has expanded to include taking an entire class for the client. Thus, it is imperative that universities and faculty implement new strategies to motivate students to learn intrinsically — that is, learning as a purpose and reason. By developing an intrinsic love for learning, cheating incidences are projected to decrease.

Students give into the temptation of the artificial production of their “work” by paying an outside party to complete their tasks so that they can score higher, pass the class and thus beat the system. Whether it be a custom-written essay, problems solved for a physics homework set or taking an online exam, contract cheating is slowly making its way to be accessible at the hand of all students — including USC students.

The cheating culture in the U.S. education system has existed for centuries. However, more recently business have been exploiting student desire for academic perfection by providing services for students that promote educational malfeasance. While this is so, we must also realize that student cheating is due to the campus climate — that is, the hypercompetitive culture of American universities that propel students to opt into higher levels of cheating. As competition for graduate and professional school admission increases, the incidences of cheating (via platforms such as, All Answers, and PrestoExperts) skyrocket. PrestoExperts, for example, is a technology company that specializes in counseling services in health, technology, finance and law. The website, launched in 2014, has thousands of independent freelancers who are able to provide to-go counseling and educational help in a variety of subjects. Not surprisingly, a portion of users on PrestoExperts are college students utilizing the service to engage in academic fraud. The idea behind these platforms is so that those who have questions can link up with those who have answers. According to the creators of these services, marketplaces that promote the exchange of information is a recipe for efficiency.

Yet, efficiency that operates an on-demand model that propels academic dishonesty provides an unfair advantage for students who produce authentic work, rather than paying a third party to complete their work. To understand why students opt into these services, we must recognize the large amount of strain placed upon students to perform well academically. In response to academic stress, students often give into the temptation to buy their grades. Ultimately, these temptations brew into acts of crime — and too often, no punishment.

While it is clear that the new cheating economy poses a threat to the experience of learning, it is not so clear who is to blame — our dishonest, unmotivated students or the increasingly competitive nature of American universities. Both should be held equally accountable, as they both contribute to the expansion of a cheating economy. Unmotivated students need to garner a stronger passion for intrinsic learning, while academic institutions need classes that promote academic wellness.