Contract Cheating

A testing center at Penn State uses high-tech surveillance to watch for student cheating.  (Photo:  Jim Lo Scalzo for USN&WR)

When I first taught this class many years ago, I featured a Blog about the University of Central Florida (UCF) cheating scandal, whereby a professor accused students of cheating on the midterm exam.  Since that time, UCF and many other institutions have gone high tech to fight cheating, and the use of online plagiarism detection services (such as Turnitin.com) have become commonplace. 

A not-so-new cheating buzzword caught my attention this year:  “contract cheating.”  I have long been aware of professional services that provide written work for a fee, but I was not aware how much attention this topic has garnered or how much the practice has grown among college students

I agree the companies that provide this service have become more conspicuous, and students may have become more jaded to the seriousness of this offence.  In an NPR news story about students cheating their way through college, I was struck by one student who didn’t consider it “cheating” if she paid someone to write “original” work.

“They don’t plagiarize,” she said, “…they write everything on their own.”

As much as professors would like to think this topic is black-and-white, it is not.  There are many different positions you could take.  Some cast blame on educators and even our parents.  There also are many ethical approaches you could take to explore the reasoning that leads to cheating, including utilitarianism, virtue ethics, even social contract theory and many more. 

The International Center for Academic Integrity sponsors an International Day of Action against contract cheating (in October every year).

I look forward to engaging this year’s class on the topic and to hearing your views and perspectives.

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31 Responses to Contract Cheating

  1. Dakota Busch says:

    I actually disagree with this blog in the sense that I believe contract cheating is black-and-white. Plagiarism is not just copying someone else’s work, but it is also pretending someone else’s work is your own. Even though you are paying someone to write something of their own work, you are passing that work off as yours. That is cheating. I also think the person agreeing to write the paper is wrong as well. You are helping someone cheat and know it is wrong yet are doing it selfishly to benefit you. I think these sites need to be shut down and the writers for these sites as well as the people paying for them should be punished.

  2. Maggie Studley says:

    I’ve personally never have turned to paying someone to write my work, but I think every college student is familiar with what contract cheating is. I know many students that have used websites or essay mills when turning in assignments. I think it’s something that has become very normalized in college today, but I don’t think students feel bad about what they are doing or feel as if it’s unethical or morally wrong. I think most students rely on these resources because they think they will never get caught. If there are no consequences to their actions why would they feel bad about doing it? I think students definitely deserved to be punished for this. Last semester I spent all semester creating and writing an 11 paged research paper that I worked extremely hard on. If I knew someone had paid someone to write their paper without having to do an ounce of work, I’d be livid and hope they would get caught and in trouble. Although a lot of students to turn to contract cheating because they just don’t feel like doing the work, there are students who feel as if they simply are overloaded on work and have no time to complete the assignment. In these cases, I feel as if the professors or even universities should be in a question. Some students take four or more classes a semester and the workload can be intense and overwhelming which is mentally draining for college students. I think universities and professors overloading students on schoolwork are almost asking for students to find an easy way out of assignments and it’s sad that students can feel so overwhelmed that they need to resort to contract cheating. There are definitely multiple sides to contract cheating but overall, I think it is unethical and is wrong. I think if you didn’t write it, then it isn’t yours, and shouldn’t be claimed as yours. I think students should be more aware of turnitin’s authorship investigation because if they know there is a greater chance of being caught while contract cheating, I think it will definitely determine a student’s decision on using an essay mill or not.

  3. isabella says:

    Great Blogpost! This was a very interesting take on how college students find loopholes in the system. I wonder if there was more engagement between the students and professors concerning their writing would there be as much of this going on? It would be interesting to see if there would be a change if students were able to do workshops of some sort for their writing for them to produce original content that is not paid for.

  4. Contract Cheating being mostly defined as “any form of cheating where a student hires another person to do their work for them” has become such a big issue within a students education world wide. You may not realize it but money and paying someone usually doesn’t lower or change contract cheating. 60.2% of people admit to having help from current or former students instead of using contract cheating services online. We can believe that a majority of these cases are informal exchanges as favors to “help” friends out with their assignments. With this occurring you start to realize that this type of “classroom” contract cheating just defeats the purpose of an assignment. Educators assign assignments to help evaluate their students and see their standing but due to contract cheating teachers can’t accurately evaluate their students and the student is also losing out on their ability to learn and earn an education. In other parts of the world Contract Cheating has started to come to a halt so students can properly earn an education. In the UK, the Education Secretary actually asked PayPal and Google to stop service with Contract Cheating providers and this is a great start to bring an end to Contract Cheating. Also, in Australia the government is actually passing legislation to make Contract Cheating services illegal. These other countries are trying to bring an end to Contract Cheating and I agree with the efforts they are making. I hope to see the United States in the near future take some actions to stop Contract Cheating so students can earn the education they signed up to receive.

  5. Olivia Maione says:

    I understand that “contract cheating” is unethical because, essentially, an individual takes the easy way out by having someone do their work for them. However, what about the businesses online that promote this act? I feel as if they should be held accountable for starting this concept in the first place because they are enabling students to take part in it.

  6. Jamie Stinson-Douglas says:

    I think we all know cheating is wrong. I don’t think that is at question here but with any ethical debate, where is the proverbial line? I think we all would agree that plagiarism counts as cheating and so does hiring someone to do your work for you but what about that middle ground? Does collaborating count as cheating? If you’re talking the assignment over or studying with a classmate, thats viewed as resourceful but if you hire someone to write a paper based on your outline, thats cheating. I think thats why the UCF cheating scandal is so interesting because it brings up the question of where that line is drawn. If the answers to the midterm were published by the textbook used in class and were easily accessible, is it wrong to use that as a resource? I’m sure the answer lays in the details of the story but I do find that question hard to determine.

  7. Riana Bailey says:

    Reading these articles on contract cheating opened my eyes to the world of cheating that I had little knowledge on before. I didn’t know so many people actually paid others to complete assignments and write essays for them. In classes I have had professors had focused more on making sure students knew how to cite sources properly or else they would get flagged for plagiarism. I believe cheating is a very serious issue, and it’s hard to actually learn anything when you cheat on assignments. The material you learn in college is very important, especially when learning content about your major because that’s information you need when working a job after college. Social media and the increase in technology has made cheating more accessible and students are getting lazy and cheating because they have easy access to it. Many of my professors use TurnItIn and I think it’s a great development to prevent cheating.

  8. gina spinosa says:

    After reading the two articles about contract cheating, I was somewhat surprised. I believed at first that more than 16% of students have bought essays online. I feel like I always hear about essays going wrong or people being caught more. The thing about cheat on the with buying essays shows that even “good students” are involved in it. While it is disappointing and upsetting that students do this, it shows how stressed some of these buyers are and will do anything to pass. I find the new technology of being able to see when a student opened a document and how many times they edited to be interesting. It will definitely change how the people who run these essay mills operate.

  9. Lillian Goodale says:

    Cheating is something that has taken place in our society and educational system for decades. Whether it’s assignments or exams, it is alarming the amount of instances that students get away with cheating, Being a student, it is easy to understand both sides because many teachers assign loads of coursework without taking into consideration the rest of the responsibilities students have. However, I do not believe cheating is right and that there should be more consequences for people who participate. Cheating creates an unfair advantage. I believe that your method of teaching really encourages the movement to end cheating. As a student, I really appreciate your method of teaching and compassion when it comes to coursework. It’s refreshing having a teacher show compassion and understanding of the challenges we face as students and the possible responsibilities we take on. Working together to create a proactive environment provides the best method to end cheating.

  10. Jessica Vernet says:

    Contract cheating has become the modern day version of normal cheating. Due to the accessibility of other people’s work online and the craft behind cheating, contract cheating is a part of the brave new world. The war on cheating has numbers that are “difficult to come by” and “research suggests that up to 16 percent of students have paid someone to do their work and that the number is rising” with convenience (NPR). Turnitin is a great resource to detect this exact type of cheating. Turnitin detects the level of writing and its style while comparing the work against other students’ work to configure the writer’s fingerprint. By working to reduce students duplication of work, it is important to “understand why students are willing to pay for assessments” but also understand students are not always getting what they paid for (The Conversation). This unethical approach to put cash over morals needs to be stopped though. It may seem like an easy way to get out of work, but when buying an essay, “much of it [can be] gibberish and about a third of it [is] actually plagiarized” anyways (NPR). Reminding students why it is wrong will “create a culture where integrity and ethics matter and where education is valued more than grades” (NPR). Discouraging contract cheating is the first step in acknowledging there is a way to revert back to the pre-modern view of education where learning was more important than getting the work done the easiest way.

  11. The article featured on conversation.com does a good job delineating the extent of the problem. The fact that according to one study in 2018 31 millions students paid others for assistance in completing work is astonishing, however more than one study should be quoted to solidify this argument. It is also heartening to see a deeper dive into who these students are, but having research on one country, Australia and the fact that non english speakers were the primary culprits is not enough. Why not look at demographics in a few large countries to see if race, economics or family background are the issues. The title of the article asks the question, “What can Universities do about it?” Cracking down and criminalizing the problem is like amputating an infected finger, instead of treating it with medication and trying to save it. How many fingers will we have to lose?

  12. Kayla Eckstein says:

    The stakes are rising in higher education, research shows that 31 million university students are paying third-party companies to produce written “original” work. Contract cheating is defined as “the informal exchange of favors to complete an assignment”. The growing industry of essay mills is one that took me by surprise. With the advancement in technology growing each day, I would not trust an anonymous individual to represent my name. You are only cheating yourself when hiring someone to do your work it defeats the purpose and mission of higher education.

    Evidence from an Australian study on contract cheating shows that outsourcing work is common among those students who spoke English as a second language. Seven behavioral theories were tested and three significant finds were assessed concerning contract cheating:

    “dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment, a perception that there are ‘lots of opportunities to cheat’, and speaking a Language Other than English (LOTE) at home”. 

    The study concluded that cheating is linked to the under-representation from universities to aid language barriers. One overseas employee from an essay mill said, “the pressure is high, she said, ” it’s not a defining factor, I actually applaud students that look for that option to get the job done”.  Education is not a job, it is a privilege.  

    There’s an important gap to be filled by higher education to recognize language and learning needs. 

  13. Kendall Rickert says:

    I think cheating has turned into a very complex thing recently. At a younger age, I used to think cheating was just looking at the paper of the student next to you, but now it has turned into so much more. There are pretty much infinite ways to cheat, but I still find it pretty easy to define what cheating is. Anything that isn’t your own work, simply isn’t your own work. Even if you have someone else write an original paper for you, it still isn’t your own work. Some people will cheat more successfully than others, but I don’t see there being any way to justify anything that is not your own work to not be considered cheating. If a professor catches you using any method to turn in work that isn’t created by yourself, how can you tell them you didn’t cheat?

  14. Dana Florian says:

    Cheating is a concept taught as wrong from early stages of life, but was everyone taught the meaning of cheating differently? This term “contact cheating” is not a term i have heard before but was quick to leave after reading that is a common form of cheating. Students writing off this form of cheating as just getting “help” from peers seems to blur the lines on if this can be considered cheating like we all grew up being told not to do. Is it cheating? is it using your resources? does everyone have the ability to partake and some just choose not to? Who has have the high ground to determine if this is okay or not and what gives them the credibility? All questions that come to mind while reading.

  15. Eleni Zois says:

    I am familiar with the concept of buying essays/ paying people to do your essays. I was not familiar with how much schools and other officials have seen this as a serious issue. I was really interested in the data about who is more likely to “commit” contract cheating. It is interesting to see that non-native speaking english students and international students have a higher percentage of hiring someone to write their essays. I can see what type of stressors lead to students wanting to pay someone to write their essays, stress from home or piled up deadlines. I can also agree that it is not ethical to hand in someone else’s work. Overall, I think there is a lot of mixed opinions with this topics of what is right and what is wrong. Some can argue that it is not plagiarism because you are not copying someone else’s work and the person who wrote the essay isn’t copying someone else’s work. On the other hand, you handing in someone else’s essay and playing it as your own can be seen as cheating too.

  16. Estefania Barrios says:

    Cheating is wrong, no matter from what point of view you look at it. It is an act of dishonesty to yourself and to others and it is even considered lying. Sadly, nowadays cheating is so common that people do not take it that seriously anymore. Taking other’s work and using it as your own, looking up for answers when you should know them yourself, plagiarism, and attempting to use unauthorized notes are all acts of cheating that come by the hand with many other consequences. It is not only unfair to others but it is also self-degrading and causes high levels of stress on yourself and might even end up in a terrible punishment. Cheating and lying, slowly but truly become a bigger issue every time, and the only way to stop it is to stand out and make the right decision so that the problem stops growing and you start learning!

  17. Julia Beltram says:

    Cheating is an act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage. Cheating is a very wrong action in almost all cases. Either way you look at it there is no reason why cheating should occur. This allows you to lie and be dishonest to yourself and others around. In today’s world cheating is a very common aspect in life. People are constantly cheating to benefit themselves and make them advancer further in life. Taking peoples words and answers are consider plagiarism. Plagiarism is the representation of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions as one’s own original work. In educational contexts, there are differing definitions of plagiarism depending on the institution. This is very unfair for those who worked hard and do not recieve the credit for it. Cheating and lying overall has became so common that some people don’t even realize their doing it and it is becoming a huge issue.

  18. Ella Malmgren says:

    Contract cheating is a topic that I wasn’t aware of before. I think that the article makes an interesting point that hiring someone else for work is something that’s confusing for some students to understand because it’s used so much in the professional world (for example, using a speechwriter or ghostwriter). They may believe it to be “original work” just because they paid someone else to do original work. Additionally, students that cheat will always find a way to cheat, and I agree with the UCF professor’s students that due to his laziness of reusing material, students took advantage of that and called him out on it later. Just recently, the University of Maryland made a deal with Chegg where they paid them to reveal which students had been using their services, so students are much more wary of using online tools. This may cause them to rely on contract cheating in the future.

  19. Mike Kaplan says:

    Cheating as a whole is unethical, however there are different levels of cheating that are much worse than others. Contract cheating is the worst form of academic cheating. Paying someone to compete your work or take an exam is hurting the educational process in so many ways. Not only do you get the practice or proper evaluation that you normally would, but it could potentially mean you undeservedly get one of the last acceptance spots at a school that you don’t belong in academically over somebody that does belong there.

    In regards to the UCF scandal, that is on the professor. The students simply studied textbook examples not knowing they would be used on the test. He tried to claim that he wrote the questions which in itself could be called cheating on his part, as that is plagiarism. Even if the students knew he used those questions and studied those questions, they’d still have to study the material and learn how to do the questions so they are still learning. Personally, I’ve had teachers and professors tell us that a certain number of questions out of a study guide would be on the test, but it forced us to study all of the questions. We went into the exams already prepared with answers but that was never considered cheating. Having someone do your work for you would be way worse than simply preparing and studying questions ahead of time because that does not interrupt the learning process.

  20. I feel like there are currently so many definitions of cheating which is why it is such a gray area. Cheating can happen in all kinds of situations, and from the academic standpoint, many things are considered cheating. Now, there are many ways professors and university administration can prevent cheating, for instance, Turnitin.com. This is a website that UT currently uses to help flag certain papers for plagiarism. These types of preventative ideas, especially on college campuses, are really beneficial because they will catch cheaters as well as scare students into not cheating.

  21. Erica Dougherty says:

    As a college student, I am very concerned that my peers do not view people writing assignments on behalf of another student as cheating. It is very shocking to see the statistic in the linked article titled What is Contract Cheating of how many students admit to having others write assignments for them. I am not sure if it is my own personal thoughts that created this morality or if I was taught specifically that it is wrong to have others do your work for you. However, I do believe that there is a right and wrong to this situation. I believe that a student’s work should be their own. School, although it occasionally seems unnecessary and irrelevant to one’s life, teaches necessities for a person’s life. It is not only about teaching topics such as math and language, but also about teaching tools such as participation and time management that apply to work and socially life. I think that companies that are getting rich off of preventing student’s cheating is acceptable and a very smart idea. Teacher’s need to stay on top of their student’s work and companies such as Turnitin makes it easier for the teacher’s to prevent their student’s from cheating as well as catching when a student has cheated.

  22. Madelyn Sprinkel says:

    In today’s day and age resources and the availability to cheat are at students’ fingertips. With the ever-evolving world of technology, students have endless resources to help them complete assignments, and achieve success in school. I personally have known about “contract cheating”, but have never done it myself, nor know of a peer or friend who has used or done such a thing. After gaining more knowledge on this type of cheating and how it is viewed in the eyes of students, I conclude that this is very wrong. I believe there is a fine line between using your resources to enhance your academics and “using resources” to complete and get your work done. Having papermills and other companies write essays for students is crossing the line big time in my eyes, the student is not performing any of the work nor putting forth any effort to contribute. Along with this, I think it is important for schools and universities to implement programs like “Turnitin” and proctorio as mentioned in the articles. It is important to keep students accountable and responsible for their actions.

  23. Ashley Culican says:

    Contract cheating seems to be a large issue in today’s society. I didn’t even know what the term “contract cheating” meant before reading these articles on it. This is a form of cheating where you pay someone else to do your work. Although it is their own original work, it is still considered cheating because it isn’t the student’s writing. I knew that paying for essays was a thing in college, but I guess I didn’t really understand the extent to which kids will go. These third party companies coined as “essay mills” allow kids to pay them in exchange for an essay. This has become a growing issue as technology has developed, and although there are tools like TurnItIn.com to help detect plagiarism, students will take their chances if they are overloaded with work. I think that solutions like having to make a podcast or interview people are perfect because it allows the student to be creative and make it their own, rather than having to write a paper about a topic like they do in every other class. It is ethically wrong to engage in contract cheating for sure, but it is very easy to see where students are coming from with the amount of pressure put on them in today’s world.

  24. Molly Barbieri says:

    I believe that this type of cheating is not worth it. Most of the time, the students who pay for their work to be done by others, do not end up getting their desired grade. This may make them think about if it worth the money? Is it better to just do the work on their own? There is a percentage of students who know their actions are wrong. They will try to make up excuses for their unethical behavior to relieve a sense of guilt. Students will buy essays online or may pay another student but convince themselves it is not cheating. There are many misconceptions about cheating and what it entails. Contract cheating isn’t as well known. Making college classes and assignments similar to the real world is a great idea. People want to do what they are passionate about and want the real-life experience. This is a great idea to decrease contract cheating and also other types of cheating across universities.

  25. Bianca Desimone says:

    After reading the blog on contract cheating, I was absolutely blown away. It amazes me that college students find any way to justify their behavior. Although I wasn’t completely informed on what contract cheating essentially is, I have heard of individuals paying other college students to do their work for them. I mean sure, we all make mistakes, but it is mind boggling that anyone could ever find a way to justify contract cheating. My number one reaction to this is, is it really worth paying the money and getting caught? I know that many people want to find the easy way out, but it’s always better to put in the work yourself, and it actually feels good when you know you’ve done it yourself. You feel a sense of accomplishment. I think it’s awesome that colleges have new technology to detect cheating, because ultimately this deters cheating and creates more authentic work.

  26. Ayana Latimore says:

    Since I have been in college, I have realized how much contract cheating occurs. As the assignments begin to build up, students start to feel overwhelmed and look to outside resources to complete assignments for them. This type of cheating is one of the most unethical because someone who is not enrolled in the course is responsible for completing an assignment. College is a very competitive atmosphere and most strive to be amongst the highest-scoring students. This method of cheating is unfair because it gives students an advantage over their peers since some of the third-party writing websites are filled with experienced writers.

    Completing your assignments in college is crucial because each course prepares you for the future career that you are pursuing. It is also harder to pass off someone else’s work as your own because everyone has their unique writing style. If a professor catches you in this act, it will be harder to prove that it is yours because they can view previous assignments that you have written and compare them. Also, you are not able to receive feedback and improve your writing skills when the work is written by a third party. Although you might receive a better grade when someone else completes your work, there is no excuse for this action.

  27. Caroline Schmidt says:

    Cheating definitely is getting trickier as technology goes on. I don’t understand students trying to justify their behavior for cheating as it’s something we’ve heard year after year. If you don’t do an assignment yourself it’s considered cheating! Not to mention, in University you are paying hundreds of dollars for your classes, so why would you pay more to have someone else write your papers for you? I think it’s definitely getting more complicated, and that clear guidelines need to be laid out in University policies. I also think the Essay Mill’s are to blame as they create more opportunity’s for students to cheat.

  28. Isabella Troia says:

    I think contract cheating is immoral. It doesn’t truly help yourself and you harm fellow classmates because you now have an academic advantage. I understand why students do it though, many friends have given accounts of professors failing to provide coherent instruction or guidance on essays. As the NPR article explained many international students are not equipped to write large pieces of work and professors are unaware. In freshman year a friend asked me for help with his essay, proofreading or suggestions, because english was not his first language. I was shocked upon reading his essay; he failed to cohere to basic grammar rules, sentences didn’t relate, and “big words” were inappropriately used. When we talked about he openly admitted to copying and pasting text from online; he didn’t know that was wrong or that it could get him expelled. There is a lot of insecurity in the classroom and students don’t want to portray themselves as behind or slower than the rest, so they avoid seeking assistance or asking questions.

  29. Isabella Troia says:

    I’m not surprised to see that contract cheating is so popular across college students. I don’t think its justifiable as it is the essence of plagiarism, submitting someone else’s work as your own. I do sympathize with students who feel the need to take such measures; professors often don’t provide proper guidance or instruction for essays. Many students feel intimidated in a college classrooms, insecurities coming to the forefront, they avoid asking questions as they don’t want to appear behind or not as smart as the rest. One time I was helping a friend of mine, who is an international student, with an essay. When I talked to him about the unusual style of his writing: unorganized, unrelated sentences, misplaced advanced vocabulary. He was unaware that plagiarizing was even a thing.

  30. Kristina Woodward says:

    This blog post is intriguing to me and relates quite well to the film we watched called (Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies. I recognized in the film’s experiments that the only time people were discouraged to cheating was when a moral code was presented to them beforehand. Similarly, at universities, a code of ethics that is signed may discourage students from forms of contract cheating like essay mills. However, it is worth noting that in classes I have participated in, only a few have required a signed contract submitting to honest practices during tests. In fact, only two of my classes in 3 full years of college had a requirement to sign on every test that you were following the school’s code of conduct in regards to cheating. In the film it discussed how just the presence and reminders of moral codes can deter people from cheating. In the case of essay mills and contract cheating, however, I am sure people do not refer back to the code of conduct to see if what they are doing is wrong. They most definitely already know that submitting someone else’s work as their own would go against any code that their school has, but they do it anyways-perhaps out of desperation or laziness. This stems to a greater problem regarding the ease at which people lie to get ahead in our society. I think the largest problem here is not that people are cheating to get their assignments in, it’s that they are not thinking that their lies and deceptive practices are harmful to themselves or others that are putting in the time and effort to ethically complete their assignments.

  31. COM 436 says:

    Many online databases, like Turnitin.com, have made it their mission stop students from cheating on many different forms of assignments. The term contract cheating is new to me and, as stated in the article, has become popular within the realm of paying to have your school work professionally done for you. Almost every student is aware of these websites that provide answers to written assignments and have utilized them to get good grades and pass various classes. Many students believe that paying for someone else to write a paper for them is not cheating. College students specifically reason with the fact that what is written is new information and does not plagiarize.
    I had never heard about the UCF cheating scandal until reading this article. I found it outrageous that approximately 200 college seniors would not be able to graduate if the cheating allegations were found true. That means all four years of learning and hard work would be thrown away due to cutting corners in your academics. The concept of cheating has come in to question due to this new era of technology and teacher to student relationships. These online databases have been created for students to cheat the system, resulting in good grades, passing classes, and graduating with ease. With a busy college lifestyle a student’s academic priorities can get jumbled with clubs, sports, and having fun with friends. At the same time, professors could be more engaging while teaching their students learning concepts in order to make them actually want to learn. Part of this could include creating test and assignments that do not already exist through other colleges and professors around the United States. This would force students to find answers on their own instead of copy and pasting questions into Google and finding the answers within seconds.
    In the NPR news story “Buying College Essays Is Now Easier Than Ever” the term essay mills was introduced. Essay mills coincide with the online databases that essentially do the work for students so they don’t have to. It was interesting to read that certain online actions were beginning to take place in order to stop students from cheating online. I was surprised to read that YouTube has been cracking down on this issue along with nations proposing/passing laws against essay mills.
    I believe that the act of cheating on assignments will never stop, but will be hindered if these online databases are shut down.

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