Stop the Big Business of Cheating

Illustration by Erin Johnson

Illustration by Erin Johnson
The Easy Way Out

As students, we’ve all had to write essays for classes that don’t particularly interest us, seem irrelevant or simply don’t fit into our busy schedules. But that’s the life of a student; writing essays is just part of the routine. Or is it?

In a recent article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas Bartlett reveals that student use of “essay mills” is on the rise. An entire industry – an extremely successful and rather secretive one – has increasingly developed so that students can pay for work that is “invisible to plagiarism software.” Web sites such as BestEssays.com, EssayWriters.com and RushEssay.com allow students to have essays written for them on any topic, as long as they are willing to pay the price. Prices can cost up to $42.99 per page for sites like BestEssays.com, “depending on the deadline and difficulty” of the topic. Ultimately, essay mills are yet another Internet-facilitated obstacle in the quest for academic honesty that teachers and professors, already grappling with other forms of plagiarism, have to deal with.

But are these Web sites really undermining the education system? While many majors like English, literary journalism and political science are based around the ability to construct informative and coherent essays, those who find themselves in fields like biology or mathematics may be less inclined to focus on their ability to create a strong thesis sentence. As it stands, UC Irvine requires all of its students to take one upper-division writing class, regardless of their major.

Some students, then, turn to essay mills because they do not believe that paper writing is an important skill that they are going to need for their future career. These students think there is no harm in using such services, so they essentially outsource their work to an anonymous entity that is often, according to Bartlett, operating from a foreign country. Bartlett worryingly reveals that there has been a surge in essay mills, so the “problem is only getting worse.”

Student apathy is only part of the problem. Professors are not completely free of any blame either. Many students complain that essay prompts are often simply uninspiring; few educators are willing to experiment with more unique and innovative topics and instead stick with the old tried-and-true methods. This is even more apparent at the high school level, where teaching has become so confined to meeting state-mandated standards that few teachers have neither the time nor the resources to attempt to really engage students. This is evident in the California High School Exit Exam.

In the end though, does any of this really justify paying for someone else to do your work for you? The answer is no. There’s an interesting thing that happens to a lot of students as they progress in their academic careers. Unlike high school, college encourages students to dive into one field, or major, of their choice. As they explore these interests, the worlds of these students become narrower, until they neither understand nor care to understand the larger world around them. Students become compartmentalized. They get so caught up in their majors that they consider all the other parts of their education unimportant.

Therein lies the problem. While it is important to focus on a major, the college experience is meant to expand all aspects of a student’s education. There’s a reason it’s called higher education. The system is designed to craft well-rounded graduates, not just highly specialized ones.

On a slightly more practical note, it would be a mistake to undervalue the importance, even for the science-related majors among us, of being able to write well and to communicate ideas effectively. Life crosses disciplines. It involves large numbers of people working together on one project or another. Communication skills and a wider understanding of the world make collaboration, and life, easier. This is true whether you are a writer trying to tell a story or if you are a physicist writing a paper for a journal.

Overall, this seems to be the next chapter in the continuing trend of the pervasive sense of entitlement to which many students have begun to subscribe. With society so focused on instant gratification, it’s hard to believe that these essay mills did not flourish to the extent they currently have much earlier on.

However, there is sort of a bright side to all this. While the existence of these report repositories is disheartening, those who do find themselves using these services are probably the same ones who’ve already carved out what parts of their education they’re going to focus on, be it through honest methods or not.

What all this comes down to is that people are willing to pay to cheat on essays. Does it do a lot of harm for someone to pay for any essay just to get through a class? The answer is probably not. But then again, that’s not the point. Academia is founded on the expansion and promotion of learning and the expression of ideas. When people ignore this, they are doing a great disservice not only to the academic community, but also to themselves. It may be easy to cheat the system, but it’s infinitely more rewarding to work hard and succeed in that system instead.

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