Since federal prosecutors charged a number of rich parents and coaches in a sprawling fraud and bribery scheme, the advantages given to wealthy American students in college admissions are under scrutiny.
Less attention has been paid to the tricks some well-off students use to get by once they are enrolled in college, such as cheating, which is nothing new. Although, with the internet, cheating is now possible on a global and industrial level.
Sophisticated websites with customer service hotlines and money-back guarantees allow students to order millions of essays from writers that create college essays as a full-time job. It is prevalent in Kenya, India, and Ukraine.
It is unclear how widely these paid-to-order essays are used but are known as “contract cheating” in higher education circles. A 2005 study in North America found that 7 percent of undergraduates admitted to turning in papers written by someone else, while 3 percent admitted to obtaining essays from essay mills.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the academic integrity office at the University of California, San Diego. “If we don’t do anything about it, we will turn every accredited university into a diploma mill.”
Contract cheating is illegal in 17 states, but punishment is typically light and enforcement rare. Experts said that no federal law in the United States, or in Kenya, forbids the purchase or sale of academic papers, but it is unclear whether the industry complies with tax laws.
It is also harder to detect than plagiarism because these essays will not be flagged when compared with a database of previously submitted essays because they are usually original work, just written by the wrong person.
This year Turnitin began offering a new product called Authorship Investigate which uses sentence patterns and a document’s metadata to attempt to determine if it was written by the student who turned it in.