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New Study Finds Correlation Between Income Inequality And Cheating In College

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A new study published in the journal of Psychological Science suggests income inequality could be one root of cheating in college.

According to Clemson University’s International Center for Academic Integrity, more than half of college undergraduate students admit to cheating. Knowing this, college instructors frequently use services available online -- like Turnitin.com for example -- that automatically check student papers for plagiarized material.

Lukas Neville, a doctoral student at Queen’s University in Ontario, wanted to find out what prompted professors to even question whether their students were cheating in the first place.

Neville researched where search-engine queries checking for cheating originated. He found they were more likely to come from states with higher rates of income inequality.

Using search data from Google for phrases such as “free term paper,” “buy term paper,” and the names of cheating websites, Neville then compared survey data on how trusting people are in each state and a measure of income inequality from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Neville said countries like Australia, Portugal and the United States have higher income inequality and lower levels of trust, compared to countries with less inequality that have higher levels of trust such as the social democracies of Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

“The differences between us and where we are in relation to each other now matter very much,” Neville told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Richard Wilkinson, professor emeritus of social epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, has found in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Utah and Wisconsin, the trust levels are near 60 percent. In states like Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia, where the income inequality was highest, trust levels were below 30 percent.

So what does Neville think college professors can do about this? He suggested in a news release that honor codes are one promising route.

"As educators, there’s not much you can do about the level of inequality in society," Neville said, "but we do have the ability to help foster trust in our colleges and classrooms."

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