Think Cheating Is Down at B-Schools? Researcher Says ‘Don’t Believe It’

An academic who’s made waves in the past by documenting cheating among graduate students is on the verge of completing a new study. Business school administrators should probably be quivering.

In 2006, Donald McCabe, a professor at Rutgers University, published survey results with disturbing implications for graduate business schools in the U.S. and Canada. McCabe and fellow researchers polled more than 5,000 graduate students at 32 schools. Fifty-six percent of business students—mostly MBAs (PDF)—admitted to cheating during the past academic year, compared with 47 percent of grad students in other subjects.

Now McCabe is back. Later this year, he’ll complete a follow-up survey that’s likely to show even more dramatic results. “Some say cheating has gone down slightly,” McCabe told Toronto’s Globe and Mail in an article this week. “Don’t believe it. Students are doing it more, but they don’t consider it cheating. You don’t have to look that hard to find cheating.”

McCabe’s last study turned out to be prescient: Two memorable scandals broke in the years following its publication. Duke’s Fuqua School of Business suspended or expelled 24 students amid charges that they cheated on a 2007 exam. The next year the Graduate Management Admission Council canceled GMAC scores of dozens of would-be MBAs who used a test-prep site that published exam questions the council was actively using.

Given the choice, many business schools would prefer to pretend that cheating isn’t an issue. In 2007, Bloomberg Businessweek asked 25 top MBA programs to reveal specific instances of cheating at their schools. The University of Chicago, the University of Virginia, and Duke were the only three schools that provided specific information. Fifteen business schools told us about their ethics policies. Seven schools, including Harvard, Northwestern, and Columbia, didn’t provide Businessweek with any info at all.

McCabe didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking more information about his new study. Some reasons that cheating may be on the rise include online resources that make it easier as well as millennials’ attitudes toward institutions. McCabe’s 2006 report didn’t throw individual institutions under the bus. If his next study is like the last one, however, the business school community still has plenty to worry about.

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