Catch Me if You Can: How American Universities Are Responding to Increasing Undergraduate Academic Integrity Violations by Jana Clinton

Introduction Many institutions are looking for strategies to address the increasing number of undergraduate academic integrity violations and build a culture of accountability among faculty, staff, and students. There are many unanswered questions in the literature and institutional data that […]


Many institutions are looking for strategies to address the increasing number of undergraduate academic integrity violations and build a culture of accountability among faculty, staff, and students. There are many unanswered questions in the literature and institutional data that address the factors that lead to cheating. For example, does gender impact the likelihood that a student will cheat? Is a student more likely to cheat during their freshman year or senior year? Are international students more likely to cheat than American students? What types of violations are most common and are these violations stand-alone events or are they reoccurring? This article will examine some of the motivational factors that impact an undergraduate student’s decision-making process as well as provide an overview of various academic integrity implementation strategies in the field.

In 2005, Don McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University, partnered with the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) to study academic integrity in undergraduate education (McCabe, 2005).  McCabe & ICAI found that of the 71,300 undergraduate students that responded, 39% admitted to cheating on tests; 62% admitted to cheating on written assignments; and, 68% admitted to cheating on both tests and written assignments, which is lower than the 95% of those who admitted to cheating on both tests and written assignments in high school (2005). Between 2002-2005, McCabe conducted another study, which surveyed approximately 63,700 undergraduate students about their college experience regarding cheating and plagiarism. Of those who responded, 36% admitted to “paraphrasing or copying a few sentences from an Internet source without footnoting it; 14% reported fabricating or falsifying a bibliography; 7% admitted copying sources word for word without citation; and, 7% admitted to submitting work completed by another (2005).” This data provides a preliminary glimpse into those who self-reported instances of academic misconduct but these numbers do not reflect those who were reported by others, such as a faculty member or fellow classmate.

Motivational Factors

What are some motivational factors that lead to cheating? Although undergraduate students may experience similar pressure points, a variety of internal and external factors may arise at different times (and different levels of intensity) during one’s college career: academic pressures, social pressures, internal pressures, values, cultural differences, time management or poor planning, and excessive or mindless workload (Murdock & Anderman, 2006). There may be some factors that trigger the motivation to cheat more than others, such as poor time management. If a student chooses to complete an assignment at the last minute and the stakes are high to achieve a good grade in the class, what are the chances that the student will plagiarize from a friend or the Internet? Similarly, if an international student needs to maintain a certain GPA in order to keep their government sponsorship to continue studying in the United States, at what point does the student decide to copy another person’s work versus complete the assignment on their own?

The important take-away from this framework is that the academic integrity policy is clear, easy to locate, and considered a shared responsibility among stakeholders.”

Best Practices

With so many factors and unknown variables, how does one begin to address academic integrity? First, it is important to understand where students are developmentally, culturally, emotionally, and socially to understand how the student views their role in their educational process. As parents continue to be included in the college experience, it is important to encourage students to take ownership and accountability for their actions both inside and outside of the classroom. Second, what does the data show at your institution? If students are more likely to cheat during their junior or senior year, is it because they were “unaware” of the honor code or is it because their upper-level classes include more writing requirements? Providing the student with various resources, such as an academic adviser, faculty member, or tutoring services, may prepare the student to face upper-level coursework and provide them with self-help tools (Stearns, 2001). Third, does your institution have an academic integrity policy? If so, when are students introduced to it, how often, and are the policies uniform across the university? For example, if a Business student cheats in a Business class, is the standard the same as if a faculty member reports them in an English class? Additionally, how do you know that the students in your class completely understand the expectations for group work versus individual work? Finally, it is important to provide 1:1 learning opportunities for students, such as orientation, advising appointments, office hours, peer review, and tutoring to provide further clarification about the institutional policies and expectations.

Additionally, Bretag & Mahmud developed the Framework for Enacting Exemplary Academic Integrity Policy at the University of South Australia to recommend five core elements of academic integrity policy implementation (2011). The core elements include: access, approach, responsibility, support, and detail. The important take-away from this framework is that the academic integrity policy is clear, easy to locate, and considered a shared responsibility among stakeholders.

Several universities are already starting the conversation about academic integrity with their students. According to Cal Poly Pomona, “We have a campus orientation and international student orientation where we address academic expectations, specifically, academic integrity. The Office of Student Conduct and Integrity provides a 30 minute presentation explaining plagiarism and proper citing (J.Clinton, personal communication, March 21, 2017).” Similarly, the University of Houston-Clear Lake conducts a 2 –day orientation each semester where they break the students into groups pertaining to college for an hour-long session with the academic advisors (J.Clinton, personal communication, March 21, 2017).”). At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “The College of Business Administration has a student organization, the CBA Student Ethics Board. Their purpose is to educate students about ethical issues occurring within our community and to encourage students to act upon the CBA Student Ethics Code while making ethical decisions in everyday life.” Finally, the University of Vermont advocates for faculty and students on an institutional level to make sure there is dialogue around international student needs and what faculty are experiencing in the classroom due to the high numbers of international students (J.Clinton, personal communication, March 21, 2017).

As the number of academic integrity violations continues to increase, it is important for many American universities to understand their student demographic, benchmark internally and externally, provide easily accessible policies, and build an infrastructure of resources across the university.


Jana Clinton is a graduate student in the dual title D.Ed degree program in Higher Education and Comparative International Education. She holds an M.Ed in Higher Education (Student Engagement focus) and B.A. in Spanish from Penn State University. She is currently working full-time as an Academic Adviser in Smeal College of Business and has previous experience in Global Programs and Residence Life at Penn State and St. Francis University. Her current research interests include international student engagement, K-20 global education curriculum development, academic integrity, and implementation of indigenous knowledge into the classroom.


Works Cited

Bretag, Tracey, and Saadia Mahmud. 2011. “Core Elements of Exemplary Academic Integrity Policy in Australian Higher Education.” International Journal for Educational Integrity, 7(2), 3-12. doi: 10.21913/IJEI.v7i2.759

Broeckelman-Post, Melissa. 2008. “Faculty and Student Classroom Influences on Academic Dishonesty,” IEEE Transactions on Education, 51 (2), 206-211, doi: 10.1109/TE.2007.910428

Harkins, Arthur, and George Kubik. 2010. “”Ethical” Cheating in Formal Education.” On the Horizon, 18(2), 138-146. doi:

McCabe, Douglas. 2005.,

Murdock , Tamera and Eric Anderman. 2006. “Motivational Perspectives on Student Cheating: Toward an Integrated Model of Academic Dishonesty.” Educational Psychologist,41(3),129-145.,

Shelton, Brie. 2016. “The Sentinel: Academic Cheating: Is It a Nationwide Problem?,”

Stearns, A. 2001. “The Student-Instructor Relationship’s Effect on Academic Integrity,” Ethics & Behavior, 11 (3), 275–285. doi: 10.1207/S15327019EB1103_6


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