Big Cheats on Campus

The old saying that "winners never cheat and cheaters never win" doesn't carry much weight on college campuses. Surveys of high school and college students show that most of them, when asked anonymously, admit they have cheated at least once. Why? And how do they get away with it?

Go to a campus, and many students will tell you cheating's a bad thing. But others admit to it openly without a hint of remorse.

We posted a notice on, saying we were investigating cheating. One student e-mailed us that he'd paid someone to write a paper for him and would be happy to talk about it. He wasn't at all ashamed of it.

The student said, "Is it worth my time to go research and find information on a topic that I'm not interested in? It's not worth my time. So I paid somebody else to do it."

The student attended a university we agreed not to name. He gave us the name of the paper-writing company he went to, the amount of money he paid and a copy of the paper itself. But after I gave him a hard time about what he'd done, he asked us to disguise him and claimed that some of what he told us was not true. I don't know what to believe, but plenty of students say what he said: that cheating is common, and many students don't view it as a big deal.

"People are pretty low-key about cheating" at his school, he said. Nobody's upset about it. "It's more like 'Damn, I should have done it myself. Gotten the A,' " he said.

'What You Need to Do to Get By'

Jennifer, an intern at ABC, admitted to plagiarizing part of a paper when she learned 20/20 was working on this story. Jennifer was among 10 students at her school who were caught plagiarizing that semester.

Her professor thought phrases in her paper sounded familiar, so he did a search on Google and found they came verbatim from sources on the Internet. He gave Jennifer an "F."

If she's caught again, she'll be expelled, but Jennifer doesn't see why it's such a big deal.

"I see it as basically survival and what you need to do to get by," she said.

She said taking someone else's work and pretending it's yours is acceptable "if it's the same thing that you wanted to say."

Students told us they cheat in many ways.

Some write on a rubber band, which become legible when they stretch it. Others put test answers on water bottle labels. (The water magnifies the tiny print.)

And now that we have all kinds of little computers, teachers often let students use them as calculators during tests. One new trick is to store probable answers in the computer. If the teacher walks by, a cheating student taps the screen to bring the calculator back.

At the University of Maryland, 12 students were caught using text messages on cell phones to cheat. At some schools they'd be expelled, but at Maryland they were given another chance.

What may be the most common and easiest way to cheat today is to go to the Internet, where students have access to countless articles they can try to pass off as their own.

Internet plagiarism often works, but some schools now subscribe to a computerized service called that compares papers instantly to billions of pages on the Internet. Any plagiarized text is highlighted. Turnitin founder John Barrie says schools submit about 20,000-30,000 papers per day, and his company finds plagiarism in about 30 percent of those cases.

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