Academic dishonesty in the United States is taken very seriously. It is not uncommon for students to be expelled for acts of plagiarism, cheating and even bribery. In fact, our commitment to academic integrity is unparalleled, giving credence to our colleges and universities, some which are considered among the most prestigious academic institutions in the world.
United States universities attract students from all over the globe who wish to pursue an American education. This is considered a good thing as there are several advantages -- economic and social -- that come from having foreign students participate in our educational system. While school administrators aggressively recruit foreign students, there has been a surge in academic misconduct, particularly by international students.
Plagiarism as a Common Offense
The most common type of rule breaking that occurs in American universities is plagiarism. Among international students, plagiarism is even more prevalent. Why? After looking at the statistics and reading the studies, there is a reasonable explanation -- not an excuse, but a valid suggestion that seems to make a lot of sense. Perhaps because English is not the first language of many international students, a language barrier exists, making it increasingly difficult to write an acceptable academic paper.
Wikipedia's article on academic dishonesty notes: "students who speak English as a second language are more likely to commit academic dishonesty and are more likely to be caught over native speakers." It has been suggested that the reason for this is because foreign students are less likely to paraphrase as they are uncertain that they can properly rephrase the thoughts without losing the meaning of the sentence. In addition, in many cases, even the most dedicated international students are not familiar with the U.S. referencing system and therefore, may not even be aware that they are breaking the rules.
Cultural Differences May Play a Role
Regardless of how welcoming the United States is, assimilation does not take place over night. In fact, in some cases, it doesn’t happen at all. The Times Higher Education recently reported on the changing times. With twenty percent of foreign students who are admitted to our universities from China and fifteen percent from India, there are some pretty strong cultural differences to take into consideration. Interestingly, in both countries, the strong commitment to academic integrity that we experience in the United States is missing.
Cultural differences may also play a role in increased rule-breaking as a consequence of family pressure. For example, it is customary for both Chinese and Indian students to be held to very high standards while enduring significant pressure from family and friends to meet or surpass academic benchmarks within a foreign country. In many cases, students who do not perform well are sent home or worse, considered as having disgraced the family honor.
Cheating as an Epidemic
For international as well as U.S. born students, cheating is relatively commonplace. In the early 1960’s when scholarly studies first began to investigate cheating, more than half of college students reported that they had cheated at least once. Today, in 2011, these statistics are generally unchanged. There are disparities between different schools based on size, location and even anti-cheating policies within individual schools. Small universities have less cheating than larger, public universities and schools with an established “honor code” have less cheating than those without one.
Students are not the only ones that are having problems maintaining academic honesty. A recent study in North Carolina confirmed that teachers are also less than honest when it comes to education. According to the study, almost a third said they witnessed a colleague cheating in one form or another. Blame it on the pressure to report positive outcomes or a state pressure to perform well, whatever the reason, cheating in U.S. schools is on the rise-both behind the desk, and in front of it.
Marcus, Jon. “Foreign students rule-breaking: culture clash or survival skills?” The Times Higher Education. October 6th, 2011. http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=417650&c=1
Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_dishonesty#cite_note-41 October 2011.