Cheating Your Way Through School

I have always wondered how on-line schools insure that the person getting the credit for the course was the person taking the course. People who worked in or were in charge of “virtual schools” have assured me that enough safeguards had been built into their systems. But according to an article in Atlantic Magazine, “Cheating in Online Classes Is Now Big Business by Derek Newton. “The growth in courses available on the web has led to a growth in paid services that will impersonate students and do their work for them.”

Today, entrepreneurs and freelancers openly advertise services designed to help students cheat their online educations. These digital cheaters for hire will even assume students’ identities and take entire online classes in their place. One of these companies, named “No Need to Study”, was asked take an online English Literature class at Columbia University. The writer got an email response from someone on its customer-relations staff who told me that, not only could the company get a ringer to take my online class, it could also guarantee I’d earn a B or better. I was told the fee for such an arrangement was $1,225.15. No Need to Study even has handy reference videos that ostensibly show satisfied clients sharing how easy it was to pay someone else to take their online classes. A client named Muhammad who explains that he hired the company to complete his math lab courses for him. He’d taken these classes before, he notes, but “the quizzes were just way to difficult” so he searched for a solution. “They got it done, and they did really, really well,” he continues. “They absolutely killed my final math and app classes with a 90 percent, and I can definitely tell you I never got a 90 percent before on anything.”

More online classes mean more online students, which means more potential customers for cheating providers. According to the 2014 Online Learning Survey, roughly a third of all higher-education enrollments in the U.S. are now online—with almost 7 million students taking at least one online class. Either way, that’s millions of potential customers for ambitious providers of cheating services.

If online degrees and certifications achieve the same stature as traditional, on-campus ones, an online education marketplace could transform higher education and change the very meaning of going to college.

If a goal of online education proponents is to convince the public and employers that an online education is as official and prestigious as a traditional one earned in brick-and-mortar and Ivy classrooms, it’s hard to imagine anything more damaging than identity-fraud schemes in which students literally pay for grades but do no work whatsoever. At least with a traditional degree, the assumption is the recipient actually went to class personally. Even so, the growth in online-degree credibility is already happening as more and more colleges move classes and degree programs online. Arizona State University offers a complete bachelor’s degree in a variety of majors—entirely online.

Recently a Craigslist ad in Orlando, where UCF is located, effectively offered to cheat for students online. The ad read, “Between your busy work schedule and personal life, you may not get time for your online classes. We will provide you an excellent support for all your online classes needs such as discussion boards, tests, quizzes, and assessments. We are a team of highly qualified professionals who are experienced in writing all types of assignments. We offer 100% plagiarism free papers that assure top grades.”

With the availability of online-cheating services and more online degree options, it’s conceivable that someone could pay an extra $1,000 a class—about $40,000 for an entire 120-credit bachelor’s degree—to simply hire someone to earn the degree for them. Considering the already high cost of tuition and the boost in earning potential a degree affords, an extra $40,000 to never even go to class, even online, may be the deal of a lifetime for someone with means. An easy No Need to Study path through college for those who can literally pay extra should also fuel lingering questions of class and race bias in higher education. Elite education opportunities already skew to those most able to afford to them. But the ability to get a degree by opening a checkbook instead of a textbook does, at a minimum, complicate efforts to flatten the education-access pyramid.

A report by the Thomas B. Fordham institute estimated that colleges save more than 40 percent when they move classes online. Indeed, the cost savings are a key selling point of those encouraging a move from having students show up to simply asking them to log in.

But the fight isn’t hopeless. There are steps colleges and online education companies can take to cut down on online impersonation. Infusing online courses with more direct engagement between teacher and student—using video technology, for example—can help.

Imagine if this is carried out in the extreme and that medical schools used on line courses instead of face-to-face classes.