Study finds MBA students are most likely to cheat

Alexander Dileonardo Oct 2, 2006

Just as in their profession, business students often do anything to get ahead — even in the classroom.

A recent study by the Center for Academic Integrity (CAI) at Duke University found that MBA students are the biggest cheats in academia.

The study, which distributed 5300 surveys at 54 colleges and universities including Carnegie Mellon, revealed that 56 percent of students in MBA program admit to cheating.

The study also found that business grad students weren’t the only ones cheating: 54 percent of engineering students and 50 percent of science students also admitted to academic dishonesty on the survey.

A September 21 article in the Financial Times reported on the study and explained that the goal in a business school is to obtain the best internship or job on Wall Street — a goal that creates an overly competitive environment.

Carnegie Mellon students cited specific motives for cheating in the Tepper School of Business, though they are concerned about their implications after graduation.

Hanish Dayal, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and business administration, reacted strongly in support of the study’s implications.

“Many business students simply see problem sets and other work as an obstacle to making a six-figure salary at Goldman Sachs or some other firm on Wall Street,” he said.

In Tepper, Dayal has noticed a strong presence of cheating. Still, he is optimistic about the integrity of business students after graduation.

“I don’t think many students will be acting dishonestly in their post-grad careers,” Dayal said. “I think cheating on homework and such is pardonable to many because it seems so petty and insignificant.”

Andrew Williams, a first-year MBA student and fourth-year electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student, has a more positive outlook on the business school.

“I haven’t seen any cheating [in the business school],” he said. “I have TAed classes in engineering and caught people cheating.”

Still, Williams admits that there is cause for MBA students to be more likely to cheat.

“People who go for MBAs are looking to get ahead and looking for any edge they can get. In other majors, the focus is more on things like research,” he said.

John H. Mather, executive director of the master’s program at Tepper, admits that MBA students do operate under special circumstances that could make them more likely to be academically dishonest.

To avoid dishonest behavior, Carnegie Mellon MBA students are required to take a course in ethics. “We start with ethics in orientation,” Mather said. “We want students to be sensitized to it.”

Mather acknowledges that cheating exists in the MBA program at Carnegie Mellon, but believes that an emphasis on community and awareness helps cut down on the number of instances.

“We avoid cheating by emphasizing community,” he said.

“The support is there. We don’t have a really competitive program. We don’t emphasize grades.”

Additionally, Mather believes that academic dishonesty may arise by accident when a student has unclear expectations about the scope of an assignment. Professors in the business school work to make sure every student has a clear understanding of the policy on collaboration at the beginning of every assignment.

Mather said that the Tepper faculty makes efforts to limit the cheating problem to a very small and manageable situation.
Holly Hippensteel, associate director of Student Affairs, confirmed Mather’s assessment.

“It’s hard to say that one major such as business sees more cheating,” she said. “In my experience, there seem to be patterns in specific courses. There are semesters where we see more reports in Intro to World History, for example, or other introductory level courses.”

Hippensteel reviews issues of academic dishonesty at Carnegie Mellon. Her involvement ranges from meeting with those accused of cheating to organizing a review board for each individual case.

“Cheating at Carnegie Mellon is not a huge problem, but any problem is more than we want,” Hippensteel said.

The CAI study found that, in addition to MBA programs, cheating is on the rise throughout the academic community.

“Bad as it is in graduate programs, even more cheating is reported in undergraduate degree programs,” stated the Financial Times article. “And high school students, it would seem, are even worse.”