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Why Students Cheat

Contract cheating companies often claim that students use ghostwriting services as a cry for help in a higher education system that is not listening to their needs. Is there some truth to that message?

struggling student looking at notes and laptop

As the editor of Campus Technology, I get a lot of e-mails from companies looking for media coverage of their products and services. Many of them are informative: touting new product features or upgrades worth knowing about. Some are a stretch: an attempt to make news out of a minor occurrence, or an idea that has little to do with higher education.

Then there is the occasional e-mail that exposes the dark underbelly of ed tech. I recently received a story pitch from a self-proclaimed "leading ghostwriting and proofreading website." In other words, a contract cheating company: one that offers writing services to manufacture coursework.

When CT wrote about this topic last year in "What to Do About Contract Cheating," one interviewee quipped, "Contract cheating companies are really insidious, evil, nasty beasts," noting that these operators promote themselves as "legitimate, authorized writing help services." Their marketing message, she explained, emphasizes that universities and professors aren't helping students enough: "We know the university hasn't got time to really help you. We know that you're struggling with timelines. We're here to help you with writing. We're available 24/7, which your university professors are not."

The e-mail pitch I received bore an uncanny resemblance to that message: "All college students face the same problem — the impossible task of getting straight A's, networking, supporting themselves and enjoying their youth all at the same time," the company said. "With the job market more competitive than ever before, [contract cheating company] has found that more and more students are turning to the platform as a cry for help within an unforgiving institution — America's education system…. The issue at hand is not students cheating more often, but the fact that our college system makes living a mentally healthy life impossible. Students need help, and [contract cheating company] has been there to help them when administration would not."

Obviously, a ghostwritten essay does not help anyone in the long run: A student who bypasses coursework will not have learned the skills and competencies that lead to future success both in college and in the workplace. And I don't believe the argument that colleges and universities are "unforgiving institutions" that refuse to help students. After all, it's in most institutions' best interest — both financially and in terms of their core mission — to keep students on track to graduation.

Still, I think there's a kernel of truth in the pressures students face to parlay their college experience into success in the workplace. When so much emphasis is put on the transactional nature of education — pass this course, achieve this degree, get this salary — it's easy to forget the inherent value of learning for personal growth. As Gardner Campbell, associate professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, told CT in a recent interview, students need space to form the insights and connections that are essential to authentic learning. Without it, "the intensely personal element of learning cannot be expressed and the thrill of individual discovery will be reserved only for the hardiest and luckiest of learners while everyone else simply takes their content in and regurgitates it when it's time for the test." Or, I might add, hires a contract cheating site to regurgitate that content for them.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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