Business graduates top of class in cheating

By Stacey Burling MCT

PHILADELPHIA – When it comes to cheating in graduate school, a new study finds that MBA students are the champs.

A survey of 5,331 students at 32 graduate schools in the United States and Canada found an “alarming” amount of cheating across disciplines, but more among the nation’s future business leaders. Fifty-six percent of graduate business students admitted they had cheated at least once in the last year, compared with 47 percent of non-business students.

The students, who were surveyed between 2002 and 2004, told researchers from Pennsylvania State, Rutgers and Washington State universities that the most important reason for cheating was that they thought that other students were doing it.

“People tend to do what they think other people are doing,” said Linda Klebe Trevino, one of the researchers and a professor of organizational behavior at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. “The fact that other people are doing it creates an environment where this is normative.”

The study asked about 13 different types of cheating, ranging from copying a classmate’s test answers to lifting sentences from the Internet without attribution.

The results come amid a growing list of corporate ethics scandals, including faulty accounting to boost earnings, and, more recently, the backdating of stock options grants, a tactic that makes executive pay even more lucrative. While there is no proof that students who would cheat on a test might later cheat stockholders, the researchers said it made sense that people who would bend one rule might bend another. In light of the scandals, area business schools have been beefing up their ethics education.

Penn State is trying out a business school honors code this year as part of its attempt to foster a “community of honor and trust,” Trevino said. “We’re really trying to do a culture change and embed this.”

To discourage cheating, Temple University’s Fox School of Business makes cell phones and laptops off limits during tests. Students are also told that computer software will check their papers for plagiarism, said Debbie Campbell, assistant dean for undergraduate programs.

When asked about the study, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School pointed to its ethics code, which forbids students from using “any dishonest method to gain an unfair advantage over other students in academic pursuits.”

At St. Joseph’s University, the Academic Honesty Board, which hears complaints about cheating, has proposed that the school form a commission whose sole job would be to promote academic integrity, said Bill McDevitt, a business law professor who is chairman of the board.

Several studies have found that undergraduate business students are more inclined to cheat than others, but this is the first to report on graduate students at multiple schools, Trevino said. The study, released Monday, has been accepted for publication by the Academy of Management Learning and Education, she said.

In the graduate-school survey, business students were more likely than students in different fields to work with others on written assignments when they had been told explicitly to work alone, and to use “cut and paste plagiarism,” or snippets of uncited information from the Internet.