Contract Cheating in Higher Education

In today’s world, you can pay someone to clean your house, shop for and deliver your groceries, walk your dog, and fix that leaky pipe in your basement. So why not pay someone to write that research paper for your English Literacy course?

Well, because that falls under what is called contract cheating and it’s a form of academic misconduct.

So what is contract cheating? Contract cheating is when a third party completes your assignments, but you turn them in as if you completed them yourself. Contract cheating covers a variety of scenarios. For example, a student may contract cheat if he or she purchases assignments from an online site; obtains assistance from someone else that goes beyond editing to actually doing the assignment; participates in unauthorized discussions or shares answers of an assignment on file sharing sites or social media sites; posts or purchases answers to an exam, assignment, problem or other work; or pays someone to write a test or exam.

When students aren’t fully aware of what constitutes contract cheating as well as other forms of academic misconduct such as plagiarism, they are more likely to fall prey to it. That’s why it’s important to understand and recognize what constitutes academic misconduct.

But why is contract cheating so wrong? When students contract cheat, they essentially pay their way to their degree and devalue the work that other students are doing honestly. The practice of contract cheating is a dismissal of the learning process and principles of academic integrity.

Many universities and colleges are cracking down on contract cheating and coming up with ways to stop it. This includes blocking various internet sites that claim to help students but really promote academic misconduct; creating strong syllabus statements advising students to avoid these sites; talking to students about the thought process necessary to generate an answer to a question or problem; promoting a wide variety of resources such as tutoring centers and counseling services; and developing course assignments that are resistant to cheating. According to EdSurge, an education journalism initiative provided by the International Society for Technology in Education, many university groups are also advocating for laws that would make it easier for colleges to stop contract cheating.
Turnitin, one of the largest makers of software that checks student papers for plagiarism, also sells an add-on service called Turnitin Originality to check for contract cheating. But aside from technology, professors can use an old-fashioned approach if they suspect contract cheating has taken place: interview the student to see if they have knowledge about the assignment. If they don’t know what they wrote about, chances are, they didn’t do the work.

Since 1992, the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) has been working to promote a culture of academic integrity and to discourage academic misconduct. Since its founding, contract cheating has become a world-wide concern. For instance, in 2019, the New York Times highlighted the rise of contract cheating in North America and in 2017, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported that more than 20,000 university students bought essays.

Each year, the IACI spearheads an International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating on October 20, in which educators, students, and institutions are urged to take a stand against and promote awareness against academic misconduct. Raising awareness is critical in combatting cheating and supporting student learning.