Online Cheating: The Economics of Supply and Demand

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Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education released an article entitled The New Cheating Economy in which it examined the prevalence of online homework-for-hire writing companies.

Over the course of the last year, I consulted extensively with the article's author, offering my insights based on a decade spent working for such companies. During our conversations, we also spoke at length about my work over the last five years, which has been largely dedicated to bringing greater awareness to the online ghostwriting business as well as improving our collective understanding of the shortcomings in our education system that have allowed it flourish.

You won't find my name anywhere in the Chronicle article, but of course, as a former ghostwriter, I'm not altogether unaccustomed to this type of treatment. Regardless, the article itself is a valuable one, brimming with insight into an industry that far too few truly understand. In it, the author explores the quiet evolution of contract cheating over the last decade, recognizing a problem that is growing with relatively little pushback from within the academic community.

The article quotes British higher ed reformer Marcus J. Ball, who noted that “‘Academics are constantly complaining about the essay-mill problem', but when presented with a ‘practical way forward to potentially solve the problem, they don't engage.'”

Indeed, any meaningful or organized efforts to confront the online cheating business are dramatically overshadowed by the industry's relatively unfettered growth. The Chronicle piece acknowledges that in many instances, educators have neither the will nor the resources, let alone the expertise, to confront online cheating. Evidence suggests that students are getting away with it right under our noses.

The Chronicle cites a lack of professorial engagement as part of the problem. This observation hints at some of the much broader realities that have given foundation to the cheating business. Such is to say that, like any other consumer industry, this one is propagated by the relationship between supply and demand. If it seems like there are nearly infinite illicit paper writing services out there, this is because the demand for these services is itself considerable.

It is common, and not necessarily inappropriate, to view this problem through an academic lens. If you'd like, you can view it through an ethical lens, but quite frankly, this is not a particularly useful or relevant starting point. Instead, in my conversations with the Chronicle, and in my own writing, I've urged others to think of online cheating as an economic problem.

If this is an issue of supply and demand, it incumbent upon us to consider the factors that create such demand. Suffice it to say that this demand is created by everything that school is and everything that it fails to be.

In light of this imperative, I recently completed work on a fairly comprehensive overview of the cheating industry with the goal of describing a diverse and sustainable business model that has effectively embedded itself into the higher education ecosystem.

To learn more about the business and why it has become so effectively ingrained, check out Academic Ghostwriting: 20 Years of Undetected Plagiarism and Going Strong!

And if you're absolutely hooked on the subject matter, check out my piece on The Ghostwriting Business: Trade Standards, Practices, and Secrets and my Guide to Detecting and Deterring Ghostwritten Papers.

As another school year gets underway, countless cheating companies are preparing to shift back into high gear. If educators are to have any hope at stifling their continued growth, understanding and engagement will be vital. So in addition to the resources that I've linked to here, I urge you to submit any questions you might have on the subject. I'll do my best to answer all!

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