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  • College Cheating:A Twenty-Year Follow-Up and the Addition of an Honor Code
  • Michael A. Vandehey (bio), George M. Diekhoff (bio), and Emily E. LaBeff (bio)

This study examines university students' behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs related to academic dishonesty using data collected in 1984, 1994, and 2004. We are unaware of any other research program that has used the same instrument to monitor academic dishonesty at the same institution over such a long period of time. Several authors have critiqued the academic dishonesty literature, questioning the validity of comparing historical and recent studies (Brown & Emmett, 2001; Graham, Monday, O'Brien, & Steffen, 1994; Whitley, 1998; Whitley, Nelson, & Jones, 1999) since different studies have measured academic dishonesty in many different ways (Vowell and Chen, 2004). Whitley et al. (1999) stated, "Some of this variance [in reported cheating incidence rates], perhaps a substantial degree, could be due to the wide range of measures used to assess both cheating behavior and attitudes…In the case of both attitudes and behavior the studies used too many different operational definitions to allow assessment of the relationship between operational definition and effect size" (pg. 667). Brown and Emmett (2001) have also questioned studies that report high levels of college cheating, suggesting that these studies might simply be defining cheating in broader terms. In the current study, students were defined as "cheaters" if they reported cheating at some time in their college career on quizzes, exams, or assignments, however they defined those terms. All others were defined as "noncheaters." This same rule was also followed in 1984 and 1994.

In 1984, we found that 54% of students admitted to cheating and we characterized these cheaters as immature, lacking educational commitment, and likely to use neutralizing attitudes to lessen guilt associated with cheating (Haines, Diekhoff, LaBeff, & Clark, 1986). Cheating increased in 1994 to 61%. This increase was significant and suggested that academic dishonesty was on the rise. Cheaters continued to neutralize more than noncheaters; however, both cheaters and noncheaters evidenced less neutralizing than the 1984 cohort. Even as cheating increased, neutralizing decreased, indicating to us that academic dishonesty had become so normative that it was no longer viewed by students as a deviant behavior that needed to be justified (Diekhoff et al., 1996).

The recent literature has reported similarly high rates of overall academic dishonesty, with reports ranging from 52-90% (Genereux & McLeod, 1995; Graham et al., 1994; Lester & Diekhoff, 2002; McCabe & Bowers, 1994; Vowell and Chen, 2004). Academic dishonesty percentages are lower if one looks at behavior within a specific semester. For example, Jordan (2001) found that only 31% of students cheated on an exam or paper during one semester. In addition, 9% of the students in [End Page 468] the Jordan study committed 75% of the cheating acts. These studies suggested that most students engage in cheating at some point during their academic career; however, a much smaller percent cheats in any given semester.

External factors (e.g., fear of detection and punishment) appear to be more effective in deterring cheating than internal factors (e.g., guilt) (Diekhoff et al., 1996; Genereux & McLeod, 1995; Graham et al., 1994). In 1994, we found that external factors ranked as the top 4 out of 6 deterrents to cheating. First and foremost was the embarrassment of being caught by a faculty member. Being dropped by the instructor ranked second, followed by fear of the university's response, and receiving an 'F.' Guilt ranked fifth, and fear of disapproval by one's friends showed the least deterrent effect (Diekhoff et al., 1996). Genereux & McLeod, (1995) and Burns, Davis, Hoshino, and Miller (1998) also reported that the threat of punishment, such as fear of expulsion, was a top deterrent to cheating. Additional external deterrents included instructor vigilance and spacing in the exam room (Genereux & McLeod, 1995). Thus, the reduction of academic dishonesty depends primarily on faculty and institutional actions.

Unfortunately, the literature is quite clear on how disengaged faculty and university administrators are from student cheating. Diekhoff, LaBeff, Shinohara, and Yasukawa (1999) reported that only 3% of cheaters reported having ever been caught, and Jendrek (1989) and McCabe (1993) found that most faculty members are reluctant to follow official university policies...


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