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MBA cheating documented, countered

According to a national study, the primary reason master’s of business administration (MBA) graduate students are cheating is peer influence.
Ken Butterfield, WSU associate professor of management and operations, conducted a benchmark study on ethics and cheating with colleagues from Rutgers University and Penn State.
Their research concluded that 56 percent of graduate business students admitted to cheating one or more times during an academic year. The team surveyed more than 5,000 business and nonbusiness graduate students from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada during the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 academic years.

When students see their peers cheating, the behavior may be viewed as the way to get ahead, Butterfield said. 

“They seem to have a mindset ‘If I don’t cheat too, I might suffer,’ ” he said. 

No surprise
Butterfield said he was not surprised by this “cheating culture” but was surprised that it was strong at a graduate level. He thought graduate students would make more mature decisions.
Butterfield suspects graduate cheating also is influenced by work experience outside the university. 

“They have been exposed to the bottom line in the real business world, where they learn to get the job done no matter what, and then they come back to school with those attitudes,” he said.

To change the cheating culture, a fully integrated attempt must be made toward an ethical community, Butterfield said.

“If the major factor is peers,” he said, “we have to influence what peers are doing.”

WSU efforts
At WSU, fall MBA orientation is designed to educate new graduate students about the value and importance of their degree, said Cheryl Oliver, director of graduate programs in business.

“We try to cut out competition and teach them to work together,” so the pressure to be at the top of the class is lower, Oliver said. 

Other efforts to provide graduates with an ethical orientation include requiring all graduates to take an ethics course and providing additional coverage of ethics in core courses, said Traci Hess, associate dean for graduate programs in business. 

All MBA students are required to take Business Law and Ethics 510. Most business courses include some coverage of ethical frameworks, dilemmas and professional guidelines within a specific field, she said.   

“All instructors are encouraged to include discussion of ethical issues in their courses and most do,” said Jerman Rose, associate dean for undergraduate programs in business.

A new integrity policy for all students also is in the works at WSU. Kenneth Struckmeyer, Faculty Senate chair elect, said the policy will include a new appeals process for students who feel they have been wrongly accused of cheating. 

“If you are caught cheating in school, you have a chance to learn from it,” Oliver said.

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