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Cheating Skyrockets At College Campuses In Colorado

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Investigator Brian Maass
(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – Plenty of students at Colorado colleges are doing more than pulling all-nighters preparing for exams.

New figures show student cheating is skyrocketing on college campuses in Colorado. At the University of Colorado in Boulder student cheating is up 50 percent in the last five years, according to University figures. At the University of Denver, college cheating is up 27 percent over the last three years, according to DU, and Colorado State University reported a 14 percent increase in cheating in the last year alone.

Those figures have prompted these institutes to engage in a race to find more effective technology to catch student cheating. But a CBS4 Investigation found the technology doesn’t always work well, suggesting the student cheating could be even worse than the universities think.

The biggest problem is plagiarism — students copying someone else’s work then passing it off as their own.

All three schools are using software programs to detect cheating. CBS4 decided to put it to the test and found the colleges may need to up their game to keep up with the cheats.

On Craigslist, CBS4 found dozens of writers with names like “Hail Mary Papers,” “Unemployed Professor” and “Penny Papers” offering to sell college papers. We bought two then grabbed three more papers directly off the Internet and turned them over to CU’s honor code office as if they were original work, authored by a student for an exam.

CU uses a software program called turnitin.com, which costs the state about $35,000 per year to try and detect phrases in papers that were lifted from another source.

With all five papers, turnitin.com did not raise any red flags, even though no original work was done. CU says the software is still worth having even though officials admit it really should have caught the papers CBS4 took directly off the Internet.

“They have considered it a valuable investment despite the fact we know it’s a long way from perfect,” said CU Associate Vice Chancellor Michael Grant.

The results weren’t much better at Colorado State University, where they use a plagiarism detection software called Safe Assign.

Director of Academic Integrity Elaine Green says, “none of the papers that you gave me came up as a high level match where most often the paper was taken from another source.”

The papers CBS4 grabbed off the Internet passed through the software without a second look. But on closer examination Green found some of our commissioned papers purchased from Craigslist had minor issues including, “quotes that weren’t cited correctly, which might draw a professor’s attention.”

But Green says their detection software can’t pick up everything.

“I think it has a limited capacity so it didn’t do more than those limits,” she said.

The universities say detection software is just one tool instructors have to catch cheaters, but ultimately unscrupulous students can sometimes get away with it.

But in doing so, CU’s Michael Grant says students are only hurting one person, “If they don’t follow the way we do academic work, they are cheating themselves.”

The University of Denver says the number of students caught cheating increased after DU formed an honor code task force. Each university said it is difficult to tell if the spike in academic dishonesty cases are due to more students actually cheating, increased enrollment trends, or as a result of more emphasis on catching cheaters.

DU Cheating Cases

2012/2013 – 107
2011/2012 – 104
2010/2011 – 84

CU Boulder Cheating Cases

2012-2013- 279
2011-2012 – 225
2009-10: 218
2008-09: 157
2007-08: 186

CSU Cheating Cases

2012-2013:262
2011-2012: 230
(no older data available)

- Written by Mark Ackerman for CBSDenver.com

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