• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


Maybe I Should Join the 'New Cheating Economy'

I could make 10x more helping college students cheat than by teaching college.

September 20, 2016



Now that I’ve moved on from teaching full-time, it’s nice to know that if things get tight around the household I can join the “new cheating economy.”

A well-reported CHE article from last month by Brad Wolverton does a deep dive into the cheating industry, giving us the full who, what, where, when, why, and how of the issue.

It’s pretty clear that as compared to teaching, cheating pays.

How much? How about $1800 a week working for an outfit called Student Network resources creating “reference” materials that students most definitely are not supposed to turn in as their own work?

Compare that to the $2850 per semester for the course I’m currently teaching at College of Charleston.

Not only does $1800/week dwarf my meager adjunct wage, it would pay more (on a 9-month basis) than a tenured position.

As Wolverton says, “The demand has been around for decades. But the industry is in rapid transition.”

The cheating economy has blossomed from the one-off term paper business of yore to a full-service concierge industry, ready, willing, and able to provide whatever the “student” needs in order to pass the class, from soup to nuts.

That it didn’t garner more attention is possibly due to the article being behind CHE’s paywall, or maybe it’s because, while the article is filled with deeply researched details and specific insights, it only confirms what we already know: When education is reduced to credentialing, people will find a shortcut around the “learning” to get to the credential.

Of course, as Wolverton shows, a lot of what is being avoided has only dubious connections to learning, and when the reward for the credential is worth the risk, students make the exceedingly rational choice to cheat.

Wolverton’s lead example is a “career-guidance specialist” in a California school district that requires graduate hours of study for a pay bump. Intimidated by a 19-page research paper, and worried about his duties in the Army National Guard, Adam Sambrano hired an anonymous stranger off of Craigslist for $1000 to take his course for him. After forwarding a $500 payment, Sambrano “waited for the cheater to do his work.”

But Sambrano was a victim of an offshoot of the new cheating economy, fraudsters and protection artists who lure in the desperate and then threaten to rat them out to the schools.

At least Student Network Resources delivers on its promises.

All of this is shocking, but not surprising, which is perhaps why the article didn’t make more of a stir. As competition and outsourcing have made their way into education, rather than quality and efficiency, we’ve begotten an endless supply of parasites who figure out how to profit off of our degraded institutions, both public and private.

Those who believe that we should expand and democratize the education space by opening it up to corporate credentialers will often admit to these hurdles, but also profess a faith in a technological solution to confirm that the person who is signed up for the course is the one actually doing the work. Never mind what's being learned, we can't even figure out how to take attendance.

Just this week, two “alternative credentialing” projects reached “key milestones,” rolling out visions for for credential reporting clearinghouses. To combat the problems of new cheating economy, project leaders believe we need to “Mobilize faculty members and students to demand laws making it more difficult for cheating companies to operate.”

But would this even accomplish anything?

Wolverton demonstrates how hard policing cheating is, relating the experience of researchers at Western Carolina University who had specifically instructed some of the students to cheat, but still couldn’t catch the students who were purchasing services like those provided by Student Network Resources.

It is the cost and inefficiency that should perhaps bother us most. Imagine the layers of technology and infrastructure necessary to simply confirm a person is who he says he is.

When education happens face to face, we don’t seem to have these issues. I know this can be costly, but it seems cheaper than designing an elaborate system that mostly seems to drain money away from instruction.

By design, the credential “registries” are agnostic as to whether or not the potential credentialing bodies are providing anything of value.

However, employers can “endorse a credential.”

After all this, apparently we’re building LinkedIn.

It’s nuts. It’s what happens when education becomes an industry. The irony that the pursuit of efficiency now requires increasingly elaborate technological and regulatory solutions is particularly thick.

In the near future, the best jobs college graduates who did their schoolwork may be able to get is helping other college students cheat.

The also recently announced “MicroMasters” industry should prove even more lucrative for my future career, as I bet doing graduate level online coursework pays much better than writing undergraduate research papers. Sure, I may have to work hard the first time through a course, but imagine it’ll be a breeze on the 60th iteration. Maybe I can hire a computer type to write an app and automate my cheating - I mean, student reference material providing – services.

Rather than expanding the credentialing marketplace, maybe we should step back and ask ourselves, “to what end all these credentials?” Before we start badging everything, maybe we should ask whether or not we need those stinkin’ badges.

Was Adam Sambrano going to be a superior career-guidance specialist having taken those graduate hours? What if, instead, we had a workplace mentoring program that empowered supervisors and experience personnel to train the less experienced?

Yes, that costs money, and no, there isn’t a role for profit-seeking third parties to intervene, but maybe it would be actually meaningful for all involved, rather than being just another hoop to jump through.

I have to think that when it’s much more lucrative for me to help students cheat their way to a degree than to actually teach students, we’ve lost the plot.

The fantasy of the “university of everywhere” never seems to grapple with the fact that “everywhere” is also nowhere.




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