In numbers growing by the thousands, college students have found a quick-fix cure for their academic headaches – on the Internet. In the wonderful world of Web sites, scores of online companies are eager and able to provide slackers with whatever they need – for a price.
Plagiarism has become big business.
If you type “Term papers for sale” into a computer search engine such as Google, you’ll be bombarded with hundreds of thousands of offers.
They come from for-profit Web sites with names – no kidding – like CheatHouse.com, Schoolsucks.com and Gradesaver.com.
Search one site for papers on existentialism – a perennial favorite of English majors – and 15 options pop up. They range in price from $48 for a six-page paper on “philosophical approaches of idealism, realism, pragmatism and existentialism” to $136 for 20 pages on the classic Albert Camus novel “The Stranger.”
The site also has a paper – just one – on what its customers are doing. It’s called “Dishonesty: The Dynamics of Cheating.” It runs six pages and sells for $48.
At most schools, plagiarism – otherwise known as copying, lifting, cribbing or, as one wit once put it, “stealing a ride on someone else’s train of thought” – can result in anything from an F to suspension.
But high prices and academic risks are a minor inconvenience to many students.
In a survey of students conducted in the 2001-02 academic year for Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity, 41 percent said cribbing written assignments was common.
Says CheatHouse: “The idea that students can simply find, download and hand in their homework is a recipe that is attracting over 6,000 visitors a day.”
It’s all so easy. Just log on and pull out your credit card. Whatever you need is yours in a keystroke.
Essayfinder.com boasts of being “highly capable of writing an essay for YOU on ANY topic by ANY date you specify. Need to read 10 pages on advanced thermodynamics by Thursday night? It’s our job to get it to you!”
The cost of such custom research is $29.95 per page, with a minimum of five pages.
Just before winter break, a 23-year-old sophomore at Brooklyn College told the New York Daily News she had cribbed “at least three papers” this semester.
“There’s a whole ring of people here, and you know who you can get papers from,” said the student, who could face suspension if she gave her name. “You can always get papers in the core classes like English, history and political science.”
Just ask Nick Summers.
The Columbia University sophomore, a solid B student, said he recently submitted every term paper he’s ever written to Gradesaver.com, which pays $25 for each one accepted.
“I do all my own work,” Summers insisted. “But I’m not bothered that other students probably will plagiarize from my papers. I guess you could say I have generally loose ethics about it, but I’ve had a lifetime – from middle school through high school and now in college – of e-mailing homework and downloading movies and music.”
That’s typical Generation Y thinking, according to Elizabeth Welsh, provost at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.
“Many students don’t realize it’s wrong until they get caught. They seem to think the Internet is free for all and they should get whatever they want from it,” Welsh said. “To them, stealing a paragraph is the same as downloading music.”
Adelphi adopted its first code of ethics last year. It includes extensive detail on plagiarism.
“The students felt cheating was a problem,” Welsh said.
Well-heeled shirkers begin even before they set foot on campus. They turn to the Internet to find professionals who will write their college applications for them, at prices that soar to $5,000.
At many colleges, these essays – which let students show off their originality and wit – can boost marginal candidates over the admissions hurdle by giving counselors insights unobtainable from the raw data on transcripts.
There is no shortage of pros offering their talents. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than a dozen Web sites cater to high school students seeking consultants to massage – or fabricate – application essays.
Several companies, such as Cyber Edit, do it all: term papers, admissions essays and resumes.
Cyber Edit insists it offers only “tutoring,” and nearly all the term-paper mills contain disclaimers decrying the pirating of intellectual property and urging their customers to use the work only as research tools.
But the problem is so severe that in 1997, Boston University dragged eight online purveyors of term papers into federal court, alleging wire fraud, racketeering and violation of a Massachusetts law forbidding the sale of term papers. A judge dismissed the lawsuit in 1998.
Since then, many schools have found a less radical remedy. Like their students, they’ve turned to the Internet.
Web sites such as Turnitin.com, based in Oakland, Calif., do a booming nationwide business ferreting out cheaters from middle school through graduate school.
“Schools have tried lots of things to check cheating, from honor codes to requiring students to turn in their note cards and show all the drafts of their work,” said John Berry, founder of the site. “These are good ideas only if you live in fantasyland.”
His plagiarism-prevention system involves “Web-crawling robots” that scour the Internet, retrieving “millions of documents” daily from online term paper mills and other sources.
Schools that subscribe to the service – for about 50 cents per enrolled student – require students to submit their papers to both professors and Turnitin. The work is then compared with the documents in the company’s databases and returned – with potentially pirated material highlighted.
In New York State, 20 colleges as diverse as Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point subscribe to the service. So do 37 high schools, including Hunter in Manhattan.
“We use it mostly in grades 7 through 9 to train students about the proper ways to do research,” said Carolyn Mayadas, a Hunter High computer science teacher. “It’s reduced plagiarism by about 85 percent.”
But in the end, as former State University of New York training center chief Leslie Mayville (now with Turnitin.com) put it: “It all comes down to the integrity of the individual student.”