Toxic College Culture Can Drive Honest Students to Cheat

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Aug 16, 2022 | 0 Comments

What happens when the pressure to succeed gets to be too much? Toxic cultures at colleges and universities can drive otherwise conscientious students to do whatever is necessary to out-perform their peers, including engaging in academic misconduct such as cheating or plagiarizing.

Research shows that cheating is no longer limited to struggling students but extends to “above average” students as well. Cheating is on the rise, partially because of the competitive atmosphere of most colleges. Universities that focus heavily on student performance may unwittingly incentivize students to cheat, and the heightened pressure on students to be the best can drive even rule-abiding students to engage in academic misconduct.

Forms of Academic Dishonesty

Academic dishonesty can come in several forms, including cheating on tests, falsifying lab results, sabotaging exams or projects, lying about a disability to get special treatment, and stealing and disseminating exam keys. Plagiarism, which can range from submitting another person's work as your own to submitting your own work for different assignments without acknowledgment, is common. Technology has introduced several ways for schools to identify plagiarism, but these new methods are not always reliable. Many students who engage in plagiarism or other forms of cheating do so because they feel intense pressure to succeed.

Everyone's Doing It

One reason students cheat is that they feel overwhelmed by the amount of work demanded of them. Another reason students may cheat or plagiarize is that they feel intense competition with their peers. Schools support this toxic sense of competition because they benefit financially from having high-performing students. Whether students feel overworked or are struggling with their mental health due to academic pressure, it is clear that colleges are not discouraging the toxic culture of success. As a result, well-meaning students can feel pressured by competition in the classroom, which studies show is the most reliable predictor of cheating, and feel they must do whatever is necessary to succeed.

Another study shows that students tend to cheat because it is the norm on campus. When students perceive rampant academic dishonesty, they are more willing to engage in it themselves. The student believes they must succeed at any cost, and they see that their peers are cheating, so they do it too.

Moreover, when a university creates and sustains a toxic academic culture, it discourages honest students from studying as diligently as they can because their hard work is not rewarded, while the students who cheat can score as high or higher than them without the effort.

How to Steer Clear of Misconduct

Unfortunately, many colleges do not provide their students with a clear understanding of what amounts to academic dishonesty. Students can avoid allegations of misconduct by discussing policies and expectations with their advisors and professors at the beginning of each semester. Professors should also provide plain statements about academic dishonesty in each course syllabus, as the nature and penalties may vary from course to course. Additionally, students should be encouraged to seek clarification if they have questions about the professor's expectations.

Help Is Available

If you're facing allegations of academic misconduct, or you're the parent of a child who is, you know there's a lot at stake. Call attorney-advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today or contact us online. Your school's toxic environment can be an important part of a successful defense, and the Lento Law Firm Student Defense Team can help.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients nationwide. Attorney Lento and his team represent students and others in disciplinary cases and various other proceedings at colleges and universities across the United States. Attorney Lento has helped countless students, professors, and others in academia at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States, and when necessary, he and his team have sought justice on behalf of clients in courts across the nation. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide, and he can help you or your student address any school-related issue or concern anywhere in the United States.


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