In 2004, Harvard Graduate School of Education researcher Wendy Fischman and professor and developmental psychologist Howard Gardner reported a disturbing discovery in their book, Making Good: the majority of young people they studied, from high schoolers to young professionals in the early stages of their careers, had cheated or acted unethically at some point and believed they were justified in doing so. Almost 20 years later, Fischman reports that views about ethics and cheating among young people have not changed, particularly on college campuses across the country.
“Not only do students cheat and unabashedly discuss their cheating, but they don’t see anything wrong with it — they rationalize and justify academic dishonesty,” says Fischman, who, along with Gardner, has just published The Real World of College: What Higher Education Is and What It Can Be, based on a 10-year study of higher education.
They find that, while openly acknowledging that academic dishonestly looms large on college campuses, students almost never report it as an important problem — nor one they should try to address or resolve.
What contributes to this mindset?
Despite the range in college selectivity, geographic location, and focus, college students interviewed by the authors are more similar than they are different. Two points of overlap in their mindset include:
- Valuing “I” over “we”: Over the course of hundreds of pages of interviews, students used “I” statements 11 times more than they used “we” statements. This suggests that students tend to put themselves and their own success over a sense of communal responsibility.
- A disconnect between students and faculty: Students also tend to view a college degree as a transaction and college as a place to achieve and build a resume so that they can earn and get a good job after graduation. Faculty, on the other hand, think college is transformational — that it’s a place to grow and develop your mind. These differing views about college mean that students and faculty who enforce the rules, may understand the ethical problem very differently.