Foreign Students Seen Cheating More Than Domestic Ones

Miriam Jordan and Douglas Belkin, Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2016

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A flood of foreign undergraduates on America’s campuses is improving the financial health of universities. It also sometimes clashes with a fundamental value of U.S. scholarship: academic integrity.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of data from more than a dozen large U.S. public universities found that in the 2014-15 school year, the schools recorded 5.1 reports of alleged cheating for every 100 international students. They recorded one such report per 100 domestic students.

Students from China were singled out by many faculty members interviewed. “Cheating among Chinese students, especially those with poor language skills, is a huge problem,” said Beth Mitchneck, a University of Arizona professor of geography and development.

In the academic year just ending, 586,208 international undergraduate students attended U.S. colleges and universities, according to the Department of Homeland Security. More than 165,000 were from China. South Korea and Saudi Arabia were the source of nearly 50,000 each and India of about 23,500.

Faculty and domestic students interviewed said it appears that substantial numbers of international students either don’t comprehend or don’t accept U.S. standards of academic integrity.

At the University of Arizona, the staff works hard to explain academic integrity to those from abroad, but “our students don’t always understand what plagiarism is,” said Chrissy Lieberman, associate dean of students.

Citing the Freedom of Information Act, the Journal asked 50 public universities with large foreign enrollments how many reports of alleged academic-integrity violations they recorded for international undergraduates and how many involving U.S. undergraduates.

Many of the schools said they didn’t have such information or it would be too onerous to track down. Fourteen provided the full records sought, for the 2014-15 academic year.

At nearly all that provided data, the rate of such cheating reports was at least twice as high for foreign as for domestic students, ranging up to over eight times as high.

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Both private and public U.S. universities have welcomed a surge in foreign students, who often pay two to three times the tuition and fees of others, partly because of special programs for them. At many public universities, their payments help compensate for shrinking state subsidies.

Sanctions for cheating can range from an F on an assignment to suspension or expulsion. At the University of Arizona, which recorded over 11 reports of alleged cheating for each 100 foreign undergraduate students in the 2014-15 school year (and 1.8 per 100 domestic undergrads), no student was expelled that year and just two suspended, according to the university.

“I can assure you that somewhere someone at the university is doing a calculus about how much tuition they would lose if they start coming down hard on students who cheat,” said Ms. Mitchneck, the geography professor.

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Ms. Fan of the Chinese students association at UC Davis said there was a “concept difference” in how Americans and Chinese “define cheating.” She said it is common for Chinese students to collaborate on assignments.

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One method used by stand-in test-takers was uncovered at UC Irvine. Imposters would report losing their university ID cards. The bookstore would issue new ones bearing the imposter’s picture, but carrying the name of the student for whom a test was to be taken. The system was used mainly by Chinese students, faculty members said.

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