Duke Begins Checking MBA Applications for Plagiarism

Photograph by Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business is the latest MBA program to report using plagiarism detection software to check applicant essays during the admissions process. It’s the highest-ranked program by Bloomberg Businessweek to come forward about using the service.

Fuqua rejected one applicant for “blatant plagiarism” but was cautious about turning away others because the 2012-13 school year was a pilot period for using IParadigms’ Turnitin detection system, the school said. No details on the rejected applicant were available.

“We chose to review a large number of applications to understand what threshold would be appropriate to use in the future to investigate for plagiarism,” Liz Riley Hargrove, Fuqua’s associate dean for admissions, said in an e-mail. ”We are still in the process of fine-tuning the system and understanding what the scores mean and how we will leverage it next year and what our investigative process will be.”

Riley Hargrove says the school had received information that led the admissions team to believe some applicants did not write their essays. There’s no way “to catch every single thing that’s been manufactured, but we thought this was one step we could take to help,” she says.

UCLA’s Anderson School of Management has rejected about 115 applicants on the grounds of plagiarized admissions essays since it began using Turnitin heading into the 2011-12 school year. Penn State’s Smeal College of Business has denied about 87 since 2009 for the same offense.

Other Turnitin users include the business schools at Wake Forest University and Northeastern University. Most schools don’t disclose that they are using the service, however, and the company keeps its client roster private.

UCLA has consistently found that about 2 percent of its MBA applicants plagiarize their essays and has traced lifted passages back to the websites of nonprofit organizations as well as websites that advertise free essays or help with editing essays. The school expects that pattern to continue into its third application round this year, which means it may find additional cases of plagiarism before fall.

“Potential” cases of plagiarism at Northeastern’s business school were expected to double to about 100 cases by April 15, Evelyn Tate, the school’s director of graduate recruitment and admissions, told Bloomberg Businessweek in February.

For the 2012-13 school year, Penn State’s Smeal reports that 40 applicants were flagged for plagiarizing essays, representing about 8 percent of its applicant pool.

“Over the years it just feels like there is a lot of pressure among applicants to manage perfect essays,” says Duke’s Riley Hargrove. “This felt like the right thing to do.”

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