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Ethics & Behavior

ISSN: 1050-8422 (Print) 1532-7019 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hebh20

Comparing the Demographics of Students


Reported for Academic Dishonesty to Those of the
Overall Student Population
Eric M. Beasley
To cite this article: Eric M. Beasley (2016) Comparing the Demographics of Students Reported
for Academic Dishonesty to Those of the Overall Student Population, Ethics & Behavior, 26:1,
45-62, DOI: 10.1080/10508422.2014.978977
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10508422.2014.978977

Accepted author version posted online: 25


Nov 2014.
Published online: 25 Nov 2014.
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Date: 12 April 2016, At: 08:30

ETHICS & BEHAVIOR, 26(1), 4562


Copyright 2016 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1050-8422 print / 1532-7019 online
DOI: 10.1080/10508422.2014.978977

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Comparing the Demographics of Students Reported


for Academic Dishonesty to Those of the Overall
Student Population
Eric M. Beasley
Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education
Michigan State University

Only a small proportion of academically dishonest students ever receive an official report of academic
dishonesty, and the sociology of deviance literature is ripe with studies illustrating disproportionalities
in detecting, policing, and prosecuting crimes. This study addresses the degree to which disproportionalities exist in the application of relatively few official sanctions levied upon students for academic
dishonesty. I compared the demographics of those who have been reported for cheating with those
of an entire undergraduate student body and of self-reported cheaters in the literature. I found that
international students are much more likely than domestic students to get reported.
Keywords: academic dishonesty, cheating, deviance, demographics, citizenship status

Most students cheat. In their new book Cheating in College, leading experts McCabe, Butterfield,
and Trevino (2012) concluded that, based on the sum of extant research, more than two-thirds
of college students are reporting that they have cheated (p. 71). Most cheating goes undetected.
McCabe et al. (2012) reported that a substantial number of faculty claim to have never observed
certain cheating acts (e.g., 62% of faculty say that they have never observed students sharing
answers to tests not yet taken by those with whom they are sharing), whereas students self-report
the ubiquity of these very same acts.
Some instructors do observe cheating but choose to ignore it or to preemptively act as not to
notice it. Keith-Spiegel, Tabachnick, Whitley, and Washburns (1998) study on why instructors
ignore cheating found that almost 80% of faculty agreed that handling cheating is one of the
most onerous aspects of the job. Whitley and Keith-Spiegel (2002) argued that faculty members
do not take action against cheating due to two primary factors: (a) denial of the problem and
(b) action inhibitors. The researchers characterize how faculty members deny the existence of a
problem: This denial seems to take three forms: (a) Cheating doesnt happen in my classes,
(b) Cheating happens, but Id rather not know about it, and (c) Cheating happens, but it can
improve learning (Whitley & Keith-Spiegel, 2002, p. 9). The researchers asserted a few primary
reasons that faculty do not act after observing an incident of academic dishonesty: anticipation
Correspondence should be addressed to Eric M. Beasley, Michigan State University, 2701 Novak, Midland, MI 48642.
E-mail: beasle23@msu.edu

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of the emotional stress that can come as the result of the onerous task of confronting a student, a lack of information and training about prevention and/or sanctioning procedure, needing
to appear as teaching a class in which students do not cheat, having a lack of time to devote
to preventing and/or sanctioning, and being concerned about pushback from students, legal or
otherwise.
Even when a student is observed or caught cheating by a faculty member or a fellow student,
and the faculty member decides to take action against the student despite the aforementioned factors impeding him, we know that instructors often choose to handle the situation informally, even
when school policy requires them to submit a formal report. McCabe et al. (2012) summarized
what is known about faculty responses to cheating:
Research shows that faculty members respond to students cheating in many ways, some of which
can undermine the broader ethical environment. Faculty members frequently disregard or circumvent
their institutions formal policies, deal with cheating on their own, and/or fail to report cheating to
a central authority, as many systems require (Graham, Monday, OBrien, & Steffen, 1994; McCabe,
1993). (p. 133)

In addition, the researchers characterize how many faculty use the possibility of a report as
leverage in getting a confession, akin to plea bargaining in the criminal justice system. Students
say that they have felt compelled to admit to some wrongdoing, even if they do not believe they
did anything wrong, just so the faculty member will not report the student to the central authority
on campus. This often occurs, even when official policy requires the faculty to report any act of
academic dishonesty observed or any act of academic dishonesty that garners any type of penalty
grade (McCabe et al., 2012).
Ultimately only a small proportion of cheaters end up receiving an official report of academic
dishonesty. Happel and Jennings (2008) reported that only 1.5% of college cheaters say they
have ever been sanctioned for their malfeasance. Similarly, Davis, Drinan, and Bertram Gallant
(2009) reported that each year at one of their institutions only 2% of students are reported for
cheating. Studying faculty actions, Graham et al. (1994) found that most of the faculty had caught
students cheating but that only 10% of these faculty imposed any penalty on the student (only
some of which were official penalties). Other students are probably even less likely than faculty
to take action against a student they observe cheating. Students at Arizona State University hardly
ever said that they would report another students academic dishonesty. One of these students
remarked that being a snitch is worse than being a cheat (Happel & Jennings, 2008). This lack
of reporting by students occurred at schools with honor codes that require students to speak up
and at institutions without these requirements. McCabe et al. (2012) reported that of those who
report having observed an incident of cheating, only around 7% of honor code students reported
the cheating student, whereas around 4% did so at schools without honor codes.
We know that some reports are appealed or heard by an honor court and that certain types of
students allegedly committing certain types of offenses seem more successful than others at this
stage of the process. Larwood and Rankin (2010) tracked all cases that were heard by the studentled honor court at a small liberal arts school over the course of 3 years. The researchers found
that there was an inverse relationship between grade point average (GPA) and likelihood of being
found guilty; the lower the GPA, the more likely it was that the student would be found guilty.
In addition, non-Whites, students in fraternities or sororities, transfer students, and students who
were not varsity athletes were more likely than their contemporaries to be found guilty. Moreover,

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COMPARING THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF STUDENTS

47

less guilty verdicts were applied in the cases surrounding an alleged act of in-class cheating than
in the cases involving out-of-class cheating.
Even among those caught cheating, formally charged, and found guilty (or not contested),
there are differences linked to demographic and contextual variables regarding academic behavior
after the adjudication process. For example, Sacks (2008) found that, at a medium-sized public university, international students were less likely to be retained than were domestic students
following a formal penalty as the result of academic dishonesty.
But are certain types of students (a) more likely than others to be reported for academic dishonesty, and, if so, (b) does this disproportionality seem to be the result of reporting biases?
Although there is not much in the literature on who gets reported, Sacks (2008) did find that
certain types of students were more likely than others to get reported for academic dishonesty
at Bowling Green State University in the mid-2000s: Men, non-White students, international
students, students in the low ACT group, students who tested into developmental coursework,
and student athletes, were all overrepresented (p. 28). More recently at the 2013 International
Center for Academic Integrity Conference, some scholars presented data indicating the types
of students reported at their respective institutions. Cronan (2013) noted that less than 1% of
undergraduates get reported for academic dishonesty at the University of Arkansas and that underclassmen and those in English and/or history classes were the most likely to receive reports.
Vanderpool and Cates (2013) presented that 1%2% of Baylor University undergraduates get
reported and that freshmen were the most likely to be reported, with seniors being second most
likely.
In September 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a call to administrators and
faculty in higher education to report some baseline statistics on reports of cheating at their institutions. The article highlights University of Texas at Austins practice of publishing data cheating
reports, a rarity. The story summarizes the universitys findings:
At UT-Austin, an average of 350 incidents of cheating occurred annually from 2003 to 2011.
In tallies that include graduate and professional students, senior undergraduates tended to account
for more than a third of cases. Male students cheated at a rate disproportionate to their enrollment,
and a third to a half of cheaters had GPAs greater than 3.0. The most common violation often was
plagiarism. (para. 8)

Despite a spike in all reported violations in 200910, cheating seemed far from widespread,
given the universitys total enrollment of about 51,000. Over time, African American and Asian
American studentsand often international studentswere overrepresented in cheating statistics
relative to their enrollment (Bi, 2013).
While the Chronicles aim is laudable, treating reported cases as indicative of cheating occurrences not only is inaccurate but also can create even more of a disincentive for instructors and
institutions to report cheating. Instructors and schools may not wish to report cheaters for fear of
creating the perception that theyboth the teachers and the schoolhave a cheating problem.
Still, clearly more research and transparency is needed in this area if we wish to gauge the
generalizability of the aforementioned findings. However, we also need a robust measure of
actual cheating rates among different types of students at the school in question and in tandem
with demographic information on the recipients of academic dishonesty reports at said school if
we are to truly assess if there are faculty-reporting biases (and, thus, if cheating reports are at

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all proportional with cheating occurrences). Even more methodological rigor will be needed to
determine the extent of reporting biases solely driven by discrimination based on demographic
characteristics.
Disproportionalities between report characteristics and general enrollment characteristics may
exist due to actual behavioral differences, reporting differences based on moderating variables
(e.g., type of class), and/or discrimination based on characteristics directly or indirectly related
to demographic variables (e.g., directly = a teacher does not believe White kids cheat, so he
doesnt look at their work trying to discern evidence of cheating like he does with those from
other races; indirectly = a teacher sees any deviation away from proper English academic writing
as a likely case of academic dishonesty, and non-native English speakers are not sure what forms
of verbs are appropriate more so than their native English-speaking counterparts).
To reiterate, a particular group of students may be more likely to get reported because the
members of this group actually cheat more often and/or more severely. In addition, even if there
are biases in reporting, these biases may be the result of ease of detection or some confounding variable like classes/majors people of a certain demographic variable are likely to enroll in.
Thus, for many reasons, the presence of disproportionate reporting is not concrete evidence of
discrimination based on race, gender, citizenship status, or some other feature.
Addressing this in the literature on behavioral deviance, scholars have aimed at gauging actual
behavior rates in addition to likelihood of punishment to provide a more robust evaluation as
to whether discriminatory practices are being used by police, courts, juries, teachers, principals,
and so on. For instance, Skiba, Shure, and Williams (2011), looking at the sum of studies that
indirectly test behavioral frequencies, concluded that the well-documented presence of racial
disparities in negative school sanctions like suspension and expulsion are not the cause of the
disproportionate acting out among students of color.
Employing a variety of methodologies, studies have sought to identify which students cheat.
The bulk of this work has produced quantitative data via questionnaires (e.g., McCabe & Trevino,
1997), although experiments (e.g., Karlins, Michaels, & Podlogar, 1988), interviews (e.g., Zito
& McQuillan, 2010), and content analysis (McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 1999), among other
types of studies, have also been conducted. In her 2008 review of the literature, Wideman (2008)
reported the following generalities regarding who cheats:
Although research pertaining to why students cheat differs greatly, the research about who does most
of the cheating is fairly consistent. In a questionnaire-based study of 291 postsecondary students,
Szabo and Underwood (2004) confirmed earlier studies when it was determined that more males
cheat than females68% compared to 39%. Third year students were less likely to cheat than first or
second year students (Szabo & Underwood, 2004; Brown, 2002). International students or students
from different cultural backgrounds (i.e. not North American) have been identified as a group who
demonstrate a high level of academic dishonesty (Park, 2003; Ercegovac & Richardson, 2004). This
has been attributed to differing cultural expectations around academic writing as well as a lack in language skills (Ercegovac & Richardson, 2004). Students who have an active social life are more likely
to cheat (Straw, 2002). Younger students cheat more often than mature students (Straw, 2002). Some
studies found that students with lower grades cheat more than those with higher grades (Cummings
et al., 2002), but other studies refute this through data that suggest no correlation between grades and
cheating. In a 1994 survey of 191 nursing students in the southern USA, researchers found there was
no correlation either between cheating and a students maturity and ability level (Daniel, Adams &
Smith, 1994). (p. 2)

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In contrast to Widemans report, an earlier review by Whitley and Keith-Spiegel (2002) challenges the notion that male students cheat more than female students, and McCabe et al. (2012)
believe that the previously found gender differences in cheating behavior have diminished to
being virtually nonexistent in the second decade of the 21st century. In addition, Cohoon and
Rogers (2003) did not find a correlation between cheating behavior and citizenship, although
their focus groups did show that students believed that international students cheat more than
domestic students.
In hopes of shedding more light on which types of students, if any, are most/least likely to
be reported for academic dishonesty in modern academia, I compare the demographics of those
who have been reported at Michigan State University (MSU) over several semesters to the overall
demographic characteristics of the student population. Specifically, I investigate (a) whether men
are more likely than women to be reported, (b) whether international students are more likely
than domestic students to be reported, and (c) whether class status is related to ones likelihood of
being reported. In addition, I cross-tabulate reported student demographic and contextual variable
(e.g., type of misconduct) and assess reported students open-ended answers to a question on
why they committed their act to gain some knowledge about why any disproportionalities might
exist.

METHODS
Under MSU policy adopted in the fall of 2009, instructors are required to submit an academic dishonesty report for any student they penalize for a violation of academic integrity, which includes
plagiarism, test cheating, falsification of data, and other duplicities (see MSU, n.d.-e, for the official university definition). Thus, not all detected acts are reported, and reported acts differ in
gratuitousness. These reports are sent to the Office of the Associate Provost for Undergraduate
Education, and students are placed into a remediation class that they must successfully complete
in order to finish their undergraduate program.
For the main part of this study, I analyzed the differences between the demographics of
instructor-reported undergraduate students at MSU and the demographic characteristics of the
entire MSU undergraduate student body. I also assessed the presence of correlations between
certain demographic characteristics and report characteristics (e.g., types of misconduct). Next,
I synthesized my findings with the bountiful extant literature on the demographic and contextual characteristics of cheaters to help assess the level of proportionality in academic dishonesty
reports. Last, I examined instructor-reported student responses to a question from the remediation course: What, if anything, would have stopped you from committing your act of academic
dishonesty? The character of these responses was used to address whether the disproportionalities uncovered were the result of differences illustrated in the existing literature regarding the
frequency of cheating behavior among various types of students.
For certain demographics, I was able to find overall MSU undergraduate enrollment statistics for each of the semesters I had data for and, in those instances, the aggregate data from all
semesters (fall 2009 to fall 2011) is compared to my aggregate data from all reports submitted
during that period. However, in some instances I was able to procure MSU data for only certain
semesters. In these cases, I compared MSU data from certain semesters only to my data from the
same semesters.

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MSU is a big public school located in the American Midwest without a university-wide
honor code, although a few smaller colleges on campus do have one. There were more than
30,000 undergraduate students in each of the semesters from which reports were drawn. Some
incoming freshmen participated in a pilot run of a proactive tutorial on academic integrity during orientation in the summer of 2013. As of this writing, it is unclear if this will become a
full-fledged feature of orientation, and it certainly was not part of the orientations of the student subjects in this study. There were more than 30,000 undergraduate students in each of the
semesters from which reports were drawn.
The MSU data on Gender and Race/Ethnicity was gathered from the Office of Planning and
Budgets (see MSU, n.d.-b), and comparisons were made for each semester from fall 2009 to
summer 2011 as well as the aggregate of those semesters. I was able to obtain MSU international
student enrollment characteristics for only fall 2009, fall 2010, and fall 2011, so those were the
semesters of reports that I used as a comparison. I gathered the international student data from
the Office of International Students and Scholars (MSU, n.d.-d). The remaining data for each
semester fall 2009fall 2011 was taken from MSUs Registrars Office (MSU, n.d.-a).
I used two sample tests of proportion to assess the presence of significant differences between
the demographics of reported students and those of the overall undergraduate population. In addition, to investigate whether disproportionalities might be associated with tendencies among
different groups of reported students, I ran tests of proportion comparing the percentage of
citizens versus noncitizens who were reported for plagiarism and who were male versus female.
To further investigate the reasons why demographic disproportionalities exist or do not exist
between reported students at MSU and those in MSUs general population (or between reported
students and the extant data on which types of students are the most likely to cheat), I analyzed 312 student course responses to the question, What, if anything, would have stopped you
from committing your act of academic dishonesty? This question was presented to students in
the module for the 3rd week of the class entitled Academic Integrity and Society. The previous
modules involved an introductory survey, vignette questions and readings, a video, and questions about the definition of academic dishonesty. Specifically this question comes after readings
and question sets that tell of the social implications of academic dishonesty. Student open-ended
responses to this question and my subsequent analysis were the subject of a previously published
article (see Beasley, 2014). Note that the basic methodology for this portion of the current study
is the same as used previously.
I analyzed the answers that were submitted by students who were enrolled in the seven iterations of the course stretching from spring 2010 to summer 2011. Most students were added to
the course that started the semester after they were reported, but in special instances, students
started earlier or later. There were some instances of nonresponse; 24 students, just 7% of the
total number of students, enrolled in the course. The great majority of the students who did not
answer this question did not complete any coursework and, other than for this fact (which is certainly noteworthy), did not seem to differ meaningfully from the sample of answerers in gender
distribution, penalty type, year in school, citizenship status, and so on.
As the instructor of the course, I had previously read the responses of the students to the module question What, if anything, would have stopped you from committing your act of academic
dishonesty? and discussed the general characteristics with other academics, including the former
instructor of the course, Dr. Shell Veenstra. Dr. Veenstra had also used some responses from this
question in her executive summary of the first iteration of the course. Thus, I already had some

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sense of what the data might show, specifically that students were often espousing ignorance in
response to this question.
I compiled all course responses independent of demographic characteristics or other identifiers
(besides those that may be present in the responses themselves) and read them, making note of
any categories that might emerge following the grounded theory approach originally outlined by
Glaser and Strauss in 1967, although my previous interactions with the data certainly mitigated
the pure applicability of this approach. I found some major themes: Students were pleading ignorance of the rules constituting academic dishonesty and the consequences/seriousness associated
with violating a code of academic integrity; students tended to deflect blame, usually by saying
that their professor could have done something differently; students did not feel they had enough
time, resources, and/or skills to get the desired result without taking responsibility for this lack
of time, resources, and/or skills; students felt they did not manage their time well with accepting
the blame for the poor time management; a bad grade was not an option; and their peers could
have affected their actions.
Then, I went through the responses again and coded them to see how many categories were
evidenced in each response. At this stage I placed the responses in which students deflected
blame into a neutralization category as to provide a bridge to the extant research on the sociology of deviance; likewise, I placed the responses in which students expressed a lack of time,
resources, and/or skills into a strain category. Almost all responses (88%) fit into at least one of
the aforementioned categories, and several fit into multiple categories.1
Next, I looked at all the responses coded for a particular category and tried to find subthemes.
For example, within the ignorance of penalty category, some mention that they would have been
motivated by knowing they would have to take my class if they cheated or have other extrinsic penalties exacted upon them, whereas others talked about how knowing that they would feel
the shame they do postincident would have motivated them to behave differently. After this, I
added the appropriate demographic (year in school, race, gender, ethnic code, and citizenship
status) and contextual (class report originated from, category of report, and penalty type) variables to each answer and attempted to locate any significant relationships these variables had
with the responses. In the end, I chose not to include race in my analysis, as I did not have
racial information for almost half of the students. For all other variables, demographic information was made available to me for 298 of the student respondents out of a total of 312 total
responses.

RESULTS
Descriptive Statistics of Reported Students
Before assessing possible trends in disproportionate reporting of students by race, citizenship
status, gender, and so on, I present the basic characteristics of the 413 students and reports that
were filed from fall 2009 through summer 2011: men (49.4%), women (50.6%); citizens (62.7%),
noncitizens (37.3%); freshman (25.2%), sophomores (22.3%), juniors (27.8%), seniors (24.7%).
1A

detailed analysis of this analysis of open-ended responses by students has been published: Beasley (2014).

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To demarcate misconduct type, instructors were told to choose at least one type out of seven and
were allowed to check multiple boxes for the same report (N = 514): Plagiarism190 counts,
Academic Misconduct on a Quiz, Test, Midterm, or Final Exam99 counts, Academic
Misconduct on any other Assignment127 counts, Unauthorized Collaboration75 counts,
Falsification of Data or Resultseight counts, Falsification of Academic Recordsfive
counts, Other10 counts. Official MSU policy states that instructors must report students that
have received a penalty grade of any type as the result of academic dishonesty. Although all
received at least some penalty, 68 of the 413 students (16.5%) received a failing grade in course.

Disproportionality in Reporting
As stated, some studies on academic dishonesty show that men cheat more than women (e.g.,
Wideman, 2008), although others did not find any gender difference (e.g., McCabe et al., 2012;
Whitley, 1998). More broadly, the literature on crime and deviance shows that men are much
more likely to transgress societies laws and, perhaps less so, its norms (Akers & Sellers, 2004),
although part of this could be a bias in the types of deviance and crime sociologists tend to study.
Still, around 90% of all incarcerated individuals in the United States on any given day are male.
A 2008 report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that of the 2.3 million inmates
in custody, 2.1 million were men and 208,300 were women (Thomas & Ryan, 2008, para. 3).
Once again, some of this discrepancy could be due to a bias in reporting, policing, prosecuting,
the judiciary process, and so on.
So, if I find that men are more likely to be reported for academic dishonesty, there are many
different reasons why this might be occurring. It could be that men and women cheat the same
amount but men are more likely to get reported. Or perhaps men cheat more than women and all
cheaters are equally likely to get reported. The ways in which the actual frequency of cheating and
likelihood of getting reported variables interact are virtually endless. Without a true sense of how
likely it is that members of each gender cheat, I cannot conclude that an individual cheater from
one group is more likely to get reported compared to a cheater from a different group. Conversely,
I also cannot conclude that the groups exhibit different cheating behaviors just based on the
notion that members of one group get reported more often than members of another group. The
likelihood of someone getting reported is most generally determined by two distinct variables:
the students behavior and the facultys behavior.
Still, if comparing the demographic characteristics of those whom have been reported with
the demographics of the overall MSU population yields a significant difference, I can compare
the difference to the mass stockpile of data on who cheats. Then I can assess whether any disproportionalities I discover match the disproportionalities in cheating behavior uncovered by the
vast literature on cheating behavior. In addition, even if I find that no disproportionalities exist
between the demographics of those that have been reported and those of the overall MSU undergraduate community, this might be evidence of a reporting bias, if the literature says that there is
a difference in cheating behavior that I can infer is true at MSU as well.
Many studies have looked at the relationship between demographic characteristics and cheating behavior. Scholars examining correlation between sex and cheating likelihood have found
mixed results. Some (e.g., Calabrese & Cochran, 1990; Michaels & Miethe, 1989; Whitley,
Nelson, & Jones, 1999) have found men to be more likely than women to self-report academic

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dishonesty, whereas others found either no gender difference or one that was easily explained by
confounding variables (e.g., Anderman & Midgley, 2004; Genereux & McLeod, 1995). McCabe
et al. (2012) argued that there may have been a gender difference in the past but that it no
longer exists. The same researchers (along with others like Franklyn-Stokes & Newstead, 1995;
Mustaine & Tewksbury, 2005) found an inverse relationship between year in school/age and
likelihood of being academically dishonest (e.g., seniors cheat less than freshmen). Elsewhere,
scholars have posited that academic dishonesty occurs in every culture but that attitudes toward
it, how it is defined, and the frequency of transgression vary (Anderman & Murdock, 2007; Davis
et al., 2009; Hu & Grove, 1991).
In my sample, men were not significantly (p = .05) more likely than women to get reported.
If there really is no sex difference in cheating behavior, like Whitley (1998) posited, or no sex
differences anymore, which McCabe et al. (2012) assert, then my finding supports the idea that
there are not sex biases in instructor reporting behavior. However, if there really is a sex difference
in cheating behavior, like Wideman (2008) contended, then my finding would be indicative of a
reporting a bias. This is, of course, assuming that the findings from the aforementioned studies
can be generalized to my sample.
When looking at differences in reporting likelihood by class status, the only significant difference was that seniors are, at the p = .05 level, underrepresented in the academic integrity class.
Seniors represented 24.8% of reported students and 33.6% of all students. This slight statistical
difference is corroborated by the literature that usually finds that younger students cheat more
(Wideman, 2008) but could also be the result of the different types of classes that earlier year
students take in comparison with older year students, or because older year students are more
savvy cheaters, or that earlier year cheaters tend to drop out or get kicked out prior to reach their
senior year, or many more explanations.
Another potential reason for this discrepancy is that younger students are more ignorant
than older students. When all reported students were asked, What, if anything, would have
stopped you from committing your act of academic dishonesty? the most frequent responses
indicated that the student felt he or she was ignorant (either of the rules that constitute academic
integrity/dishonesty or of the consequences of breaching these rules, or of both). To see if ignorance could be a major mediating factor in facilitating the inverse relationship between year in
school and likelihood of getting reported for academic dishonesty, I looked at the percentage of
responses that were coded for ignorance of rules within each class status. No significant differences between the likelihood that a reported student from each class level would respond to the
aforementioned question citing ignorance of the rules were found.
The biggest difference between the characteristics of the sample of reported students and
the characteristics of the overall undergraduate population was that international students were
around 5 times more likely to be reported than would be expected by chance. I had reliable data
only for the percentage of international students in the overall undergraduate population for the
fall semesters of 2009, 2010, and 2011. So I compared data from only those three semesters (see
Table 1).
This finding is congruent with a wealth of literature that shows that international students
are more likely to transgress the rules of academic integrity (e.g., Davis et al., 2009; Wideman,
2008). The more specific reason for this difference is attributed to international students coming
from collectivist cultures that do not have the same sense of individual private property, including

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TABLE 1
The Percentage of Non-U.S. Citizens in the Overall MSU Undergraduate Community Compared to the
Percentage That Have Been Reported for Academic Dishonesty

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Total
Non-U.S.

Total
Non-U.S.

Fall 2009

Fall 2010

Fall 2011

33,180
2, 636 (7.94%)

32,628
2, 992 (9.17%)

32,919
3, 627 (11.02%)

Reported Fall 2009

Reported Fall 2010

Reported Fall 2011

102
44 (43.1%)

76
29 (38.2%)

137
73 (53.3%)

Note. Michigan State University (MSU) data are from the Office of the Registrar and the Office for International
Students and Scholars.
p < .001.

TABLE 2
The Proportion of MSU Students Reported for Only Plagiarism versus MSU Students Reported for Any
Other Type of Academic Dishonesty, Grouped by Citizenship Status
Fall 2009a
Citizens
58
Noncitizens
44
Reported for only plagiarism
Citizens
17 of 58 (29.3%)
Noncitizens
12 of 44 (27.2%)

Fall 2010b

Fall 2011c

Totald

45
31

63
74

166
149

19 of 45 (42.2%)
10 of 31 (32.1%)

24 of 63 (38.1%)
15 of 74 (20.3%)

60 of 166 (36.1%)
37 of 149 (24.8%)

Note. MSU = Michigan State University.


a n = 102. b n = 76. c n = 137. d N = 315.
Proportions for citizens and noncitizens significantly different, p < .05.

intellectual property as the United States and U.S. academia. Thus, it is believed that international
students are more likely to plagiarize, and there has been some evidence of this (e.g., Ercegovac
& Richardson, 2004). To see if international students were more likely than domestic students
to have plagiarized, I looked at the likelihood that each group of reported students were reported
for plagiarism in the fall of 2009, 2010, and 2011. Surprisingly, among reported students, international students were less likely to be reported for only plagiarism (i.e., instructors checked the
plagiarism box only for the misconduct type category; see Table 2).
Another explanation for the overrepresentation of international undergraduates is that gender
is a mediating variable: If a higher proportion of international students than domestic students
are male and if men cheat more, then, international students would be more likely to cheat than
domestic students. I found some support for this hypothesis in Table 3, where I uncovered that
reported international students were much more likely to be male than were reported domestic
students.

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TABLE 3
Comparing Citizenship Status of Michigan State University Undergraduates Reported for Academic
Dishonesty by Gender
Citizenship

Female

Male

Total

Proportion Male

Citizen
Noncitizen
Grand total

139
65
204

120
88
209

259
154
413

120/259 (46.3%)
88/154 (57.1%)

Note. p < .05.

DISCUSSION
International undergraduates2 were much more likely to get reported for academic dishonesty
than were domestic students. This was the biggest demographic discrepancy between the individuals receiving academic dishonesty reports and the entire population of undergraduates. This
finding is not too surprising considering it is congruent with much of the literature presents and
attempts to explain this disproportionately high likelihood of international students studying in
the United States to get reported for academic misconduct.
Cultural beliefs and norms surrounding academic integrity, intellectual property, rules of attribution, and even the very notion of private property are commonly and widely reported to vary
across time and space (e.g., Callahan, 2004; Ercegovac & Richardson, 2004; Payan, Reardon,
& McCorkle, 2010; Rawwas, Al-Khatib, & Vitell, 2004). In line with this, people from collectivist and/or non-Western cultures seem to violate, or be willing to violate, the conventions of
Westernized academic integrity more often than students who have been primarily socialized
into the individualistic and attribution-heavy rules of the academies of the West.3 For example, Rawwas et al. (2004) reported that Chinese marketing students found cheating behaviors to
be more acceptable than did their American counterparts, and Grimes (2004) yielded a similar
conclusion in comparing U.S. business undergraduates to those of students studying in Eastern
Europe and Central Asia. Grimess study reached the conclusion that American students valued
and expected more honesty in their academic lives than did the European and Asian students.
This differential cultural conditioning seems to be associated with an individuals propensity to
act in academically dishonesty ways, with international students being more likely to cheat than
U.S. students (Ercegovac & Richardson, 2004). This idea is quite similar to Eve and Bromleys
(1981) culture conflict theory and the social learning theory of deviance as conceptualized by
Akers, Krohn, Lanza-Kaduce, and Radosevich (1979), who built on the shoulders of Donald
Sutherlands differential association theory (Michaels & Miethe, 1989).
2 Although

I do not have country-of-origin statistics for the international undergraduates reported for academic dishonesty, I can relay country-of-origin statistics for the international student population at MSU. Here are some details
about the fall 2011 class (these are from the Office for International Students and Scholars Stats Report 2011): Total:
5,989 students (undergraduate total = 3,341 students). Top five sending countries: China (3,012 students), Republic of
Korea (729), India (303), Saudi Arabia (203), and Taiwan (187).
3 Whereas Payan et al. (2010) reported that students with collectivist values are less likely to cheat, Martin, Rao,
and Sloans (2011) findings indicate that the individualists cheat more than collectivists. Martin et al. also argued that
acculturation has an effect on cheating but that race/ethnicity (Caucasian or Asian) does not play a significant role.

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However, not all scholars agree with this viewpoint. Some point to the high-stakes examinations used to set career trajectories of students in Asia as providing the main propulsion toward
cheatingnot more abstract cultural understandings. Miyazaki (1976) illustrated this notion and
its deep historical roots in Chinas Examination Hell. Speaking with an intimate knowledge of
the Vietnamese education system, Phan Le Ha (2006) argued that the cultural differences associated with differential cheating rates and attitudes have been overemphasized. Ha told of severe
punishments for Vietnamese children caught cheating and spoke of a culture that demands attribution, just attribution that might not be in complete congruence with that demanded by Western
academics. For example, Vietnamese grade school kids might introduce a quote by Ho Chi Minh
as something said by Uncle Ho and forgo formally connecting the quote to a certain book,
speech, article, and so on, that was produced in a certain year and published by a certain company in a certain location. Still, although Ha believes there are more factors influencing students
views on plagiarism, the author conceded that there may be some truth to the cultural conditioning
hypothesis.
Of course, U.S. students are part of their own cultures that mystify academic integrity and
foster blatant dishonesty and disrespect for the laws governing intellectual property. In her ethnographic study of some modern American undergraduates, Blum (2009) revealed a subculture
where sharing and quoting without attribution are established norms of conduct. In this world,
individuals regularly quote movies, songs, and TV shows in everyday speech, and part of thriving
in this culture rests on ones ability to seamlessly integrate his or her thoughts with popularly
known phrases and bits from the fashionable media of the time. In addition to this hypersharing reality that many of todays college students live in, the students are also embedded in an
overarching American culture where honesty does not seem very valued, especially when being
dishonest can get one ahead. In David Callahans (2004) popular book The Cheating Culture,
he convincingly presents a portrait of contemporary American culture that not only passively
accepts cheating, corruption, and lying but also actively fosters it, through fierce winner-take-all
competitions for prestige, money, and inclusion, among other things.
However, as Callahan admitted, cheating also regularly occurs in cultures with economic and
social systems different from the United States. The watchdog group Transparency International
reported that the greatest concentration of corruption across the globe occurs in the more communally structured, socialistic countries (Hodess & Wolkers, as cited in Crittenden, Hanna,
& Peterson, 2009). Perhaps in this ever-globalizing world these cross-cultural differences will
become a moot point in the future, as college students from all over the planet will have
been exposed to the same worldwide hyperculture as everyone else. Supporting this hypothesis,
Crittenden et al. (2009) did not find any meaningful differences between how tolerant business
students from the United Stateswhich has a relatively low corruption indexwere of cheating
and how tolerant business students from countries with higher corruption indices were. Despite
this, the researchers did find a significant difference in student cheating tendencies between students from the United States and those from high corruption index countries (e.g., China, Bolivia,
Turkey, Vietnam), with the former believing in less cheating and the latter in more.
Cohoon and Rogerss (2003) mixed-methods study of computer science students offers some
qualitative evidence of the association between corruption and cheating behavior. For example,
an international student, studying in the United States, is quoted, Im from Ukraine . . . [where
cheating is] not a negative thing at all. People [there] expect students to want to cheat. Note
that in 2011 Transparency International ranked Ukraine 152 out of 183 countries (Transparency

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International, 2011). In addition to the reports garnered directly from international students
about the, at times, pro-cheating culture of their home countries, many U.S. domestic students
also espoused a belief that international students were prone to cheating behavior, especially
organized cheating behavior. Cohoon and Rogers quoted a U.S. citizen explaining why he felt he
must cheat:
The Russians had the Computer Science department on lock. And if anybody here who disagrees
with me (laughter), tell me because the Russians have all the tests, all the answers. . . . They have
everything and they work as a good unit. Indians too, and the Asians. Everybody has their own niche.
And like me, . . . Im the only black guy in there , and it just leaves me out, you know. I have to join
a circle . . . I joined up with the Russians in [an advanced programming class], and they helped me
through the class. They gave me all the exams from last semester. Im not saying: Im taking the fifth
on the cheating part, but they gave me all the exams from the last semester. They gave me all the notes.
They had everything, and they distribute it to all their friends, the whole circle.And if youre not in
a niche or a group, or maybe you dont cross the barrier [into a group], youre going to fail. (p. 9)

Russias 2011 ranking by Transparency International was 143 out of 183 (Transparency
International, 2011).
In light of these qualitative findings, Cohoon and Rogers (2003) reported something unexpected: Their data, writ large, do not point to a relationship between citizenship and cheating
behavior. To substantiate this, the authors stated that there was not a significant relationship
between the proportion of international students in a department and that departments selfreported problems with cheating.4 Thus, it may not be that international students cheat more
but that their cheating behaviors are more salient to others and perhaps to themselves as well.
The large overrepresentation of international students in my class may not be an indicator of
differences in the actual frequency and egregiousness of academically dishonest behaviors but
rather may be an indication of differing perceptions about the cheating likelihood of various categories of people. This hypothesis fits well with Howard Beckers famous labeling theory and the
various established tenets of social psychology that illustrate the powerful role of perception and
perceptual salience in remembering, focusing, and deciding to act (e.g., see Cialdini & Goldstein,
2004).
Of course, it can be both. Perhaps instructors, domestic students, and international students
are all primed with the idea that international students cheat more than others. In this scenario,
instructors are more likely to look for cheating behavior among international students and, due
to this disproportionate surveillance and sifting, a greater proportion of international students are
turned in, which just substantiates the idea that they are more likely offenders, creating a sort of
self-fulfilling prophecy. Adding to this, if, as Becker (1973) and others have thought, international
students internalize the label given to them, they may be more likely to act out in accordance with
that label. In this case, they may cheat more. But do students and faculty have this perception
about international undergraduates?

4 Of

course, group-level data do not always predict individual behavior. For example, it may be that international
students do cheat more but that domestic students in departments where there are higher concentrations of international
students are less likely to cheat than their counterparts in departments with fewer international students. Invalid deduction
of this type is often referred to as the ecological fallacy.

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Cohoon and Rogers (2003) ran focus groups with undergraduates that yielded evidence that
students in general seem to think international students do cheat more than domestic students;
however, these researchers also found that, despite the students identifications that international
students were especially prone to cheat, a larger overarching analysis does not corroborate this
perception. Cohoon and Rogers wrote,
Despite these student self-reports and complaints about cheating among international students, the
data for this study showed no measurable relationship between cheating and non-citizen groups of
students. Departments with more international students were no more likely to report problems with
cheating than were departments with few international students. It seems that many students cheat,
but when international students are a visible group, students who were not a member of the group
believed that international students were doing the most cheating of anyone. Thus, it is possible that
having a visible group of different students made their actions stand out, despite there being no real
difference between their behavior and the behavior of other students. (p. 10)

Another factor, other than actual cheating differences, that may account for some of the differences in reports by citizenship status is the ease of detection. Although it is difficult to find
untarnished data on the total number of acts of academic dishonesty occurring at any given time,5
the bulk of self-report studies indicate that a much higher number of cheaters and cheating incidents exist than are ever officially reported for academic dishonesty. Although Crittenden et al.
(2009) asserted that only 5% of cheaters had ever been caught, even fewer get caught and officially sanctioned. Happel and Jennings (2008) reported that just 1.5% of college cheaters say
they have ever been sanctioned for their malfeasance, whereas most studies assessing how many
college students have cheated show around a 45-fold increase in that percentage (McCabe et al.,
2012). So, if the great majority of acts are never caught, and even fewer are reported, a key determining factor in who gets caught could be how easy the person is to catch and/or how much proof
an instructor has. It is certainly easier to notice a nonnative speaker writing in perfect English one
paragraph and very broken English in the next (this can also be true for domestic students with
poor writing skills) than it is to notice the copying and pasting of a native English speaker.
Extending this last thought, if ease of detection was a powerful influencer of likelihood of
reports and if it is generally easier to detect international students plagiarism, we could expect
that more international students than domestic students would be reported for plagiarism. Table 2,
which was presented earlier in this section, shows the opposite: Of those reported, domestic
students were more likely to have been reported for plagiarism. However, because international
students are so much more likely to be reported than domestic students (around five times as
likely), my findings suggest that it is more likely that an international student in the general
population will be reported for plagiarism than would a domestic student from the general undergraduate population. Thus, the widely reported notions that international students plagiarize more
than domestic students and get reported more often for plagiarism is partially supported by
my data. Furthermore, this is evidence that some of the reasons international students are so
overrepresented in the course are related to plagiarism.
Still, there may be many other variables mediating and/or moderating this relationship.
As mentioned, the differences between the representations of international and domestic students
5 In

experiments this number is easier to ascertain, but not many studies have used this methodology, and the studies
that have still have to deal with concerns about external validity.

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may be due, in part, to the different gender compositions of each group (in the fall of 2009, 53%
of international students were male [see MSU, 2010], whereas only 46% of all MSU students
were male [see MSU, n.d.-c]). Religiosity has been found to inversely correlate with cheating
likelihood (Lambert, Hogan, & Barton, 2003), and in the places where international students tend
to come from (e.g., China, where 38% of international students enrolled at MSU in the fall of
2009 were from; see MSU, 2010), there is generally less religiosity than in the United States.

CONCLUSION AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS


Most studies on collegiate academic dishonesty report relationships among demographic characteristics and self-reported cheating behavior. Some themes have emerged: Younger/earlier
year undergraduates cheat more than older/later year undergraduates, and international students
cheat more than domestic students (Wideman, 2008), men admit to cheating more than women
(although often gender does not have a significant effect on cheating [Lambert et al., 2003] review
this matter depicting which studies found a gender difference and which did not). However, the
studies producing the aforementioned conclusions are mostly based on self-reports of general
student samples.6 The results of these studies may be more at the mercy of skewing mediation via memory, social desirability, and varying student perception of what constitutes academic
dishonesty than demographic data describing students who have been reported for academic
dishonesty.
In addition, there is a distinct conceptual difference between students who self-report engaging
in academically dishonest behavior and those that get reported for it. Most notably, not everyone
gets caught, not everyone who gets caught gets reported, not everyone who gets reported knew
they were cheating, and, even if aware, they may not self-report it to a researcher.
I compared the demographics of those who have been reported with those of the larger student
body at MSU and of self-reported cheaters in the literature in order to discover trends regarding
the differences between those that self-report academically dishonest behavior to a researcher and
those who get reported for it.
The largest finding was that international students are much more likely than domestic students
to get reported. My analysis also suggests that seniors are less likely than underclassmen to get
reported, and that there is not a significant disproportionality in reports according to gender. Much
of the extant literature shows that international students are more likely to cheat and/or more
likely to get caught cheating. It seems that they are also more likely to be reported. An analysis
of the degree to which, if any, international students cheat more than domestic students will help
illuminate any biases in instructor reports.
Although the literature is vast in its assessments of who is cheating and how much they are
cheating, a random sample study of the MSU undergraduate population that uncovers cheating
behavior of different kinds of students can be directly compared to the demographics of the
instructor-report samples to attain a clearer gauge of reporting biases. I plan to undertake such a
study in the near future.
6 It

is possible that these populations are skewed toward those who do not commit or get reported for academically
dishonest acts, as the type of student that get reported may be more likely to drop out of college.

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