International Students Scapegoated for General Trend of Academic Dishonesty in US Colleges and Universities

In early June, Wall Street Journal published a highly-circulated article stating that the number of international students caught cheating in US colleges and universities in the 2014-15 school year was 5.1 in 100, while the number for domestics students was 1 in 100.  The article then went into a list of reasons why international students are more likely to cheat, cheating tactics and strategies, and why schools are turning a blind eye.  However, these numbers are problematic, as WSJ touches on in their article, and this statistic is not representative of international students in general, which this article will explain shortly.

First, let us take a look at how this survey got its numbers.  Over a dozen US colleges and universities were involved in this survey.  The survey’s results are based on institution-reported rates of cheating.  The reason the number of participating institutions is not higher is because many of the schools approached do not track cheating in such a way because it would not be reflective of those who cheat and get away with it, and the actual chore of collecting and interpreting this data is overwhelming.  Why is this?  According to the International Center for Academic Integrity, about 60% of all US college and university students report having cheated at least once in the last academic year.  This number includes both foreign and domestic students.  This means schools cannot track actual rates of cheating because it is so rampant.  It also means that while schools are catching international students cheating at higher rates than domestic students, the fact of the matter is who they catch does not reflect the rates of who actually cheats.
The second problem is that schools quantify cheating in different ways, a crucial difference in measurement that WSJ indicated was not taken into account in the cited survey.  Some schools quantify cheating by the number of incidents, while other schools quantify by the number of students involved. Since many of the incidents of students getting caught included clusters of students all having the same wrong answer on a test raising a big red flag, the number of incidents and the number of students involved yield vastly different rates of academic dishonesty.
WSJ delved into the reasons as to why rates of cheating were so high amongst international students.  High pressure to do well to keep their visa status, trouble with the English language, and misunderstanding of US academic integrity were all on the list.  Another factor indicated is that schools have been accepting more and more international students without taking into consideration the extra socialization these students need to fully integrate into the US academic atmosphere and be successful.  These students face high pressure to succeed in a new culture and in a non-native language, and are targeted by entrepreneurs offering test-taking and custom paper-writing services that have been discovered on college and university campuses across the country.  It is also believed that the high rates of international students caught cheating means that since these students feel that everyone else is being academically dishonest anyway they might as well join in and ease the pressure.  Meanwhile, WSJ reports that international students caught cheating do not get expelled because schools depend on the high tuition rates they pay to offset in-state tuition and deceased state subsidies.
While it is true that international students have kept colleges and universities in the US financially healthy, it is not true that there is a culture of cheating amongst these students. It is true that international students are targeted by services offering to take tests, write papers, and even take on a student’s entire course load – for an ample fee, of course.  However, the vast majority of international students do not buy into these services, and could not afford them even if they wanted to.  It is easier to catch cheating when a student who does not speak English very well turns in a beautifully written paper, or an impersonator shows up to take a student’s test, however the rates of who gets caught cheating do not accurately reflect the rates of all of those who cheat.
While WSJ interviewed professors and administrators of college and universities, they overlooked a group of professionals that works very closely with international students from all over the world: foreign credential evaluators.  Foreign credential evaluators are international education experts who understand academic infrastructure, norms, and ethics around the world.  Evaluators work closely with these students to evaluate their foreign education in terms of US academic standards for the purposes of admission to undergraduate and graduate programs in the US, as well as employment and visa status.
Sheila Danzig, international education expert and Executive director of prominent credential evaluation agency TheDegreePeople does not agree that there is a culture of cheating amongst international students.  In fact, she sees quite the opposite.
“The 5.1 in 100 ratio does not accurately reflect the reality of academic integrity in US colleges and universities,” explains Danzig.  “International students tend to be incredibly honest and hardworking, and greatly appreciate the opportunity to earn a degree in the United States.”
About the Author  Sheila DanzigSheila Danzig is the Executive Director of a Foreign Credentials Evaluation Agency. For a no charge analysis of any difficult case, RFEs, Denials, or NOIDs, please go to or call 800.771.4723.

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