A cause of plagiarism?

So there is an interesting article over on the Mind Shift blog (part of NPR’s KQED’s website) called What’s behind the culture of academic dishonesty. It’s an interesting article that discusses plagiarism and other types of cheating in education and notes that:

“…it’s time to scrutinize the underlying behaviors and motivation for all this cheating.”

I completely agree. Now, I haven’t done any research myself into the problem of plagiarism and/or cheating, and I have only read a few studies, but I did spend seven years in higher education as a student, and have spent the better part of the last 10 years as an instructor. During that time I have come in contact with students cheating on exams and plagiarizing on papers. Through my (albeit anecdotal) experience, I feel that one of the key factors to blame for an increase in cheating on campus is the open enrollment system.*

Japan doesn’t have an open enrollment system, but because of the low numbers of 18 year olds, there are more spaces available at universities than there are slots to fill them, so if a student has the desire and the money, or more appropriately, if the student’s parents have the desire for their child to go to university and they have the money, then they will be admitted somewhere – usually at a mid or lower ranking school, like where I teach. It is defacto open enrollment.

The problem with open enrollment is that schools end up taking students who lack the motivation, maturity, study skills, social skills, time management skills, self-discipline, self-esteem, and even (dare I say it) the intellectual capacity to be at university. In my experience it is these students who cheat. They cheat not because they are bad people; they are not dishonest, liars or con men. They are not trying to ‘game the system’ as often is the stereotype. They cheat because they are completely in over their heads, are under huge pressure to perform and don’t know what else to do.

It is a very controversial thing to say, largely because I would probably be out of a job, but I think that the open enrollment system needs a serious re-thinking and not just because of the cheating/plagiarism problem.

*For those who don’t know or remember, an open enrollment system is one that, in its most basic form, is simply that institutions of higher learning are required to accept all applicants. For example, back in the 90’s when I was an undergrad, all trade schools, community colleges and four-year colleges in Colorado (in other words, everyone except the four universities) were required by law to admit all students who graduated from a Colorado high school, regardless of their grades, test scores, etc. I don’t know if that is still the case.

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