Facilitating Cheating in College – Lots of Blame to Share

In a recent Forbes article titled “This $12 Billion Company Is Getting Rich Off Students Cheating Their Way Through Covid,” Susan Adams introduces her readers to Chegg, the most valuable edtech company in America.

Chegg’s capabilities to assist students with cheating are so well known that Ms. Adams reports that students refer to the act of accessing Chegg’s website as “chegging.” For $14.95 a month, a student buys access to the answers for 46 million textbook and exam problems in Chegg’s database and can submit them as their own in an online quiz or for homework problems. Chegg employs 70,000 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates in India to assist with preparing answers to exams or with paper-writing assistance.

According to Ms. Adams, Forbes interviewed 52 students who use Chegg Study. All but four admitted they use the site to cheat.

Since the pandemic and the conversion of most colleges to online, subscriptions to Chegg’s service have spiked. Chegg’s nine-month revenue surged 54 percent through September. Chegg’s shares are up 345 percent since March 18. Chegg’s market value is more than $12 billion.

For their part, Chegg executives respond that their software was not built for cheating, but rather to “offer students personalized services to help them get unstuck.” They also responded that they remain 100% committed to addressing cheating and are working with faculty and institutions since they can’t do it alone.

Ms. Adams provides a narrative about the lengthy history of cheating. One author of a book about cheating who is cited states that “you’re depending on people who cheat to be honest with you about whether they cheated.” Her book estimates that two-thirds of college students cheat.

There are myriad reasons why students cheat. Ms. Adams notes that cheating occurs so that students can get better grades, pass a required course they don’t care about, and save time for work or athletics. Other students do not want to be at a disadvantage if everyone else in the class is cheating.

Despite the salacious headline, Ms. Adams writes that it’s unreasonable to blame Chegg for all of the increase in cheating. Human nature is at fault as well.

However, Chegg has weaponized the temptation and is cashing in. She writes that our arsenal of digital tools and global connectivity should be deployed to transform education for the better. The tragedy is that Chegg is using them to outsource cheating to India.

I agree with Ms. Adams that cheating has gotten out of hand. At the same time, there are ways to reexamine how we use tests, quizzes, and papers for assessment that could possibly minimize the opportunities to cheat.

Over the years, I have listened to faculty members and deans claim that their banks of exam questions with capabilities to randomly assign questions to quizzes and exams — sometimes different ones to each student — are sufficient to minimize cheating. Maybe that was the case then, but it certainly isn’t the case now.

Chegg’s database of 46 million questions, 70,000 STEM experts on call, and online apps for answering just about any math question minimize the effectiveness of quiz banks unless a student is sequestered in a room with no technology and a pad and paper.

We need to consider different ways to assess knowledge, comprehension, and mastery of subject content. Pre-COVID, there were testing centers around the U.S. that offered proctoring services for exams. During COVID, most of those testing centers have been closed.

Ms. Adams writes that schools have spent millions on remote proctoring to surveil students while they take exams. The proctoring outfits lock students’ web browsers and watch them through their laptop cameras.

Although most students interviewed by Forbes indicated that remote proctors made them too scared to cheat, others noted that they could use Chegg while being proctored remotely. I assume those students have access to another laptop or tablet with internet access to Chegg or another online source for test answers.

In a recent Times Higher Education article titled “Online exams: is technology or authentic assessment the answer?”, Anna McKie writes that the surge in cheating cases reported by universities since the switch to online exams makes the need for a solution urgent. She adds that online “closed book” exams have proved comparatively easy to cheat on, while open book exams with a time limit don’t fix the problem because the contract cheating websites operate around the clock.

Ms. McKie interviews Dr. Sarah Eaton, a University of Calgary education professor and program organizer with the International Center for Academic Integrity. Dr. Eaton states that colleges and universities have two options: use online proctoring technology or authentic assessment.

Authentic assessment requires students to apply what they have learned in different circumstances, rather than relying on memorization, and is difficult to cheat on. Online proctoring uses technology that will check that students remain in the room, track their eye movements, analyze their keystrokes, or block them from other websites.

Two U.S-based online proctoring companies, ProctorU and Proctorio, have experienced a huge increase in growth since the COVID lockdowns began. ProctorU has doubled its staff of 500 human proctors, and Proctorio has experienced a 900 percent increase year over year in proctored exams completed on its platform.

Some students have complained that these tools are invasion of their privacy and have launched petitions to stop the deployment of them at their universities. There are faculty members who agree that online proctoring is too invasive and expensive, and for that reason, support the utilization of authentic assessments.

Janice Orwell, emeritus professor of higher education and assessment at Flinders University, stated that “the problem is that assessment often is designed with efficiency in mind rather than educational effectiveness. Institutions were failing to provide sufficient professional education or supportive mentoring for staff to take on this high-stakes aspect of university education.”

Other faculty members cited by Ms. McKie state that universities should be investing in their faculty development and student support and not remote proctoring. This change would allow for the development of assessment methods that help learning and preclude the need to technology to combat cheating. Others stated that online proctoring services are an artificial life-support system for a dying type of assessment.

I agree with the assessment points of view cited by Ms. McKie. Universities should encourage the development of authentic assessments and provide professional development training to enable it. In an era where technology is ubiquitous in all but the poorest areas of the globe, it will reduce the need for intrusive proctoring technologies and encourage personalized learning.

As a parent of two college students, I believe more usage of authentic assessments will engage students more in the learning process than rote memorization or stressful timed tests. If we want to prepare college students for a long life of learning, we should provide them with engaging learning, not obstacle-laden learning. What are your thoughts?

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence