Candace Sue is the (relatively) new head of academic relations at Chegg. Before taking on that role, Candace was an associate vice president for communications, marketing and media relations at the UC Office of the President. Given the recent critical press about Chegg, I wanted to give Candace an opportunity to share how she thinks those of us in higher education should be thinking about the company.
Q: Candace, before we jump into my questions about Chegg, it might be helpful to get everyone on the same page about what Chegg is and how it helps students. Can you explain what services Chegg offers students, how it works and how much it costs?
A: Chegg is an online learning support tool used by millions of students in 190 countries around the world. It is a source of 24-7, expert-backed educational help for students, especially those who do not have ready access to their professors, their peers or in-person tutors due to the isolated learning situations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students value Chegg because it offers assistance whenever and wherever they need it. Today’s students need this level of flexibility because many of them may be working (three out of four, to be exact), caring for their families while going to school or have other commitments that makes it difficult for them to access their professors. We also offer things like textbook rental, AI-powered grammar support and antiplagiarism tools, flash cards, practice tests, step-by-step solutions, expert Q&A, and learning boot camps that develop in-demand job skills. The Chegg Study Pack, which has many of these services, costs just $19.95 a month.
Q: Chegg is viewed by some faculty as a cheating site. How do you respond?
A: Chegg is absolutely not a cheating site and is designed to support student learning.
I think this accusation is an oversimplification of a long-standing, complex problem exacerbated by the sudden shift to online learning last spring. More than a year into the pandemic, students are still struggling, and many schools are straining to fully serve their needs, including mental health. Students have faced untold levels of stress and anxiety, which experts regularly cite as a primary cause of cheating, and Chegg’s recent Global Student Survey indicates that 56 percent of students worldwide say their mental health has suffered since the COVID-19 period.
We, as an education community, should be debating what it means to better support students at this vulnerable point in their lives. We should be asking how we can serve the whole student while collectively encouraging academic integrity through better assessments and improved pedagogy, including teaching students how to effectively use online tools like those offered by Chegg.
Chegg is serving an unmet need for comprehensive support that’s accessible and affordable. We provide learning support to 6.6 million students worldwide, and the vast majority of our users are honest and use our tools appropriately. We take any attempts to misuse our website seriously and invest significant resources to address academic integrity, which we believe is fundamental for students to comprehensively learn and be able to apply later in their careers. We aren’t naïve about the issues exacerbated by the pandemic, and it’s why we adhere to our honor code policy, cooperate with official academic integrity investigations and offer tools like Honor Shield to deter academic dishonesty on exams. We developed these tools to address faculty interests and continue to work with anyone who wants to truly tackle these issues together in support of students.
Q: Candace, OK. That answer is not a surprise coming from someone at Chegg. But I want to push a bit deeper. The reality is that the perception of Chegg across academic faculty and administrators is not good. Given where we are now, are there areas where you agree with the critiques of how Chegg has been operating? Is there anything that Chegg can be and should be doing better? What is the path forward that you see for Chegg to earn the trust of professors and other educators?
A: That is a difficult question because faculty and administrators are far from a holistic group. I think we have to consider that there are many opinions out there. For instance, I speak to faculty frequently and have learned many just aren’t familiar with how students use online tools. Those who have more exposure to tools like Chegg often think they are helpful and represent an opportunity to support students in a way “traditional” education cannot. Then there are those who simply believe Chegg is an impediment to them personally and a source of frustration because some of their students attempt to misuse the site as a way to pass off someone else’s work as their own. Some faculty think students should have access to any resource available, and others genuinely think they should prescribe all of the resources a student uses to study. These differing views can be challenging for both faculty and students -- with some professors expending their time and energy trying to address individual student behavior and students trying to decipher which professors allow online resources on their assignments.
The reality is that we, like most organizations, were not prepared for the pandemic and did not anticipate the way Chegg Study would be abused by those taking exams at home. We acknowledge this and are working to address the issue with policies, enforcement and tools like Honor Shield to protect the students who are legitimately working hard. Some of the conversations I have had with faculty suggest they are deeply rooted in their own self-interested desire to preserve the status quo, and just as many understand that the world around them has changed -- including the needs of the students they teach. We are interested in working with anyone who is open to improving higher education for the better, using the tools available today and those to be created tomorrow.
Most of us at Chegg are deeply committed to helping students. We believe that the 19th-century model of education doesn’t work for 21st-century students. Not allowing use of certain tools when information is readily available to most of us on our mobile device is not a viable method to facilitate learning. Penalizing students for collaboration when today’s jobs depend on connectedness is not reflective of the modern world.
In the U.S., according to educationdata.org, 40 percent of undergraduates drop out before earning a degree, costing them lost wages and dimming their future job prospects. Yet the average cost of tuition has steadily increased by 1,375 percent since the 1970s. These dismal statistics are indicative of how America’s system of higher education is failing to serve the very students and families (and taxpayers) who invest in degree attainment. But, what if we can work together to achieve better outcomes for students? What if we use online tools to give students access to the best faculty, the best learning tools and the best content at the exact time that they need it?
I think the way forward is clear -- Chegg must work hand in hand with academia, not in opposition, and the reverse is equally true. We have always been supplemental to faculty and their resources, not a replacement. We must continue to show that we respect academic intellectual property and support exam integrity, and ultimately, we must earn their trust by doing what we do best -- focusing on student outcomes first and foremost.