Monday, May 14, 2007

Cheating At Colleges and Grad Schools

This Friday's Wall Street Journal featured an article discussing cheating at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. It went on to mention the percentage of cheating reported in some other graduate disciplines, and undergraduate programs.

According to the Journal article, undergraduate cheating hovers around 50%. Using a slightly looser definition, Donald McCabe, of Rutgers, found, in research for the Center for Academic Integrity, that undergraduate cheating approached 67%. The B-school average for students who cheat is reported to be 56%. That of other graduate programs is said to be around 50%.

Rather than tackle the moral dimension of this sad situation, a simpler notion comes to my mind.

Does this prominent example of B-school cheating have anything to do with the increasing mediocrity we seem to see emanating from US businesses? Could we simply be seeing businesses increasingly hire graduates who have cheated so often that they simply don't have the skills which are expected to accompany the degrees they have allegedly earned?

Perhaps it's not so much the day-to-day, low-level skills and knowledge, but higher-level applications of that knowledge.

There will always be a few brilliant, driven young men and women who become tomorrow's innovators. Engineering, physics or chemistry students at universities like MIT, CalTech, Carnegie, Stanford, etc.

But what of the mass of middling graduates from so many other four-year programs? And graduate degree programs? I'm beginning to think that many students are so fixated on receiving (already inflated) grades, that they are simply skipping true learning, in order to secure an initial billet upon finishing their degree programs.

Of course, once you're in the work force, as a very wise grad school professor and mentor told me, it's rare people recall the school from which you graduated six months later. If they do, he intoned, you have a problem. Performance is what predominates in the workforce, although, of course, not in every case. Connections, relatives, alumni, can sometimes grease the skids for the somewhat-above, or just truly, mediocre. However, if so many students simply cheat to finish college, is it any wonder that they might not really have the knowledge that forms a foundation on which they, and their employers, can progress and improve?

No comments: