Paul L. Caron

Monday, August 29, 2016

Online Courses Fuel Growth Of 'The Cheating Economy': Colleges Prioritize Boosting Enrollment Over Catching Cheaters

WeChronicle of Higher Education:  The New Cheating Economy, by Brad Wolverton:

The Chronicle spoke with people who run cheating companies and those who do the cheating. The demand has been around for decades. But the industry is in rapid transition.

Just as higher education is changing, embracing a revolution in online learning, the cheating business is transforming as well, finding new and more insidious ways to undermine academic integrity.

A decade ago, cheating consisted largely of students’ buying papers off the internet. That’s still where much of the money is. But in recent years, a new underground economy has emerged, offering any academic service a student could want. Now it’s not just a paper or one-off assignment. It’s the quiz next week, the assignment after that, the answers served up on the final. Increasingly, it’s the whole class. And if students are paying someone to take one course, what’s stopping them from buying their entire degree?

The whole-class market is maturing fast. More than a dozen websites now specialize in taking entire online courses, including,, and One of them,, advertises that it has completed courses for more than 11,000 students at such colleges as Duke, Michigan State, even Harvard.

As cheating companies expand their reach, colleges have little incentive to slow their growth. There’s no money in catching the cheaters. But there’s a lot of money in upping enrollment. ...

Like any underground industry, academic cheating has its share of sloppy opportunists and savvy operators. Most work in the shadows. Click on a website that offers academic work for hire, and you’ll probably find little information about the people or company behind it. The owners often use aliases and mislead prospective customers with fake addresses and exaggerated claims.

No Need to Study LLC lists its corporate address as 19 East 52nd Street, in New York,, but complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau say that address does not exist. A representative for the company said in an email that it is a virtual business offering services exclusively online and does not have an office open to the public. A dissertation-writing service that claims to be based in Chicago seems to operate out of Pakistan. "In order to create a best academic assignment that rank #1 among other assignments," it website says, "then you will seek for a dedicated and experienced writer’s help." ...

Cheating has become second nature to many students. In studies, more than two-thirds of college students say they’ve cheated on an assignment. As many as half say they’d be willing to purchase one. To them, higher education is just another transaction, less about learning than about obtaining a credential.

The market, which includes hundreds of websites and apps, offers a slippery slope of options. Students looking for class notes and sample tests can find years’ worth on, which archives exams from dozens of colleges. And a growing number of companies, including Course Hero and Chegg, offer online tutoring that attempts to stay above the fray (one expert calls such services a "gateway drug").

Many students turn to websites like Yahoo Answers or Reddit to find solutions to homework problems. And every month, hundreds of students put assignments up for bid on and Upwork, where they might get a paper written for the cost of a few lattes. ...

Some of the most explicit exchanges happen on Craigslist, which has become a hub of cheating activity. Over two days in April, The Chronicle analyzed Craigslist posts in seven cities in which a cheater or cheating service offered to complete whole courses for students. The search turned up more than 200 ads. In many cases, the same ads ran in multiple cities, suggesting a coordinated marketing effort.

Craigslist posters appealed to students by acknowledging how little time they had for busywork. "Online classes are a pain in the ass," said one Chicago-area ad. Others outright asked students to hand over their online credentials. "You can trust us with your login and password information," said a Phoenix post. "We will do every section of your online class including discussion boards, tests, assignments, and quizzes."

The Chronicle exchanged messages with several Craigslist posters to inquire about the cost of their service and how it worked. One person who has posted regularly in the Los Angeles area said he had been in business for 10 years and had a staff of "over 20 experts." His prices, he said, depended on the number of hours it would take to complete a class, not how well a student wanted to do. "We always get A’s and B’s," he said in a text message. "Calculation based classes are $750. All others are $600. Anyone quoting different is not a pro and doesn’t know what they are doing. Cheap quotes = F grades. ...

Colleges have tried technology to combat cheating. Several thousand institutions around the world use the anti-plagiarism software Turnitin, which says it has a database of some 600 million papers. But a recent study found that custom work is "virtually undetectable."

Coursera, an online education platform employed by dozens of prominent colleges, uses webcams and "keyboard dynamics," which attempt to verify students’ identities on the basis of their typing patterns. But that doesn’t do much good if the cheater is always typing. ...

The biggest key to fighting the problem is faculty engagement, says Tricia Bertram Gallant, a former president of the International Center for Academic Integrity. She often speaks with professors about the business, she says, and finds them surprised that someone else could be doing students’ work. "When I tell them about contract cheating, they’re shocked," she says. "They basically say, ‘What? That goes on?’ " ...

Others are in denial that it could happen in their classes. And even those who know about it and want to stop it say they’re too busy, or feel that the fight is futile, with new cheating companies popping up all the time. ...

Colleges also might need to rethink their approach, says Ms. Bertram Gallant. As online education continues to grow, and cheating companies have more opportunities to infiltrate classes, institutions would do well to enlist people with the skills to ferret out violations, she says. While educators may be equipped to catch plagiarism, they don’t have the tools to track a paid cheater who is assuming someone else’s identity.

Instead, colleges continue to rely on proud traditions to fight the scourge of cheating. This fall, as students return to campus, some colleges will require them to sign an honor code. Others will spell out for them the potential consequences of academic dishonesty.

In October, academic-integrity officials at the University of Oklahoma plan to hold a session to warn new students about paper mills. The tool they're using to combat cheating? Tea bags. To remind the students of the importance of ethics, the university is encouraging them have a cup of "integri-tea."

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Very sad.

Posted by: Old Ruster from JD Junkyard | Aug 30, 2016 7:56:42 AM

"To remind the students of the importance of ethics, the university is encouraging them have a cup of "integri-tea."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Either way our incredibly expensive higher ed model (just like secondary ed) is broken beyond repair. The really savvy students game the system by taking CC courses to get the ridiculous 60-hour common core bs out of the way, easy and cheap. They then go to an elite 4-year school to take their major courses. Even then, most students find YouTube courses to be better than the courses they paid for. From there, many opt to join the real world instead of continuing on to academia.

Bottom line? The entitlement of a continuous stream of new faces to feed the system is coming to an end. Even full professors are going to have to hustle for their dinner.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Aug 30, 2016 6:40:33 AM