By: Dr. Mac Adkins
Many persons are shocked and outraged by the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal that broke February 12, 2019 in which 50 people were indicted for funneling students into elite universities. Many other persons are not shocked but are making comments that this sort of thing has been commonplace for a long time. Frequent comments in social media have focused on how these actions of wealthy parents have emphasized how their sons/daughters are privileged.
In my almost 30-year career in higher education as an administrator, researcher, faculty member, dean and CEO/CAO of a company that serves hundreds of institutions, I have had many interactions with parents of college students. While the current outrage is about the actions of some wealthy parents regarding admissions, I can tell you from experience that many parents of all socio-economic strata are also acting unethically when it comes to assisting their students.
Let me tell you about two such families that I know personally. One family has been dedicated to their children’s education for over a decade. They homeschooled their two children from first grade through graduation. Now, these two persons are enrolled at a local community college taking primarily online courses. One of the students struggles academically and the mother remarked “I am just doing what it takes to get him through college. He really needs to have a degree. So, for now I am logging into his courses to make sure he passes.”
In another family the wife holds a college degree, but the husband does not. He recently lost his job and is going back to school online now as an adult in his mid-thirties. The wife remarked, “Because he was not college prep in high school and I have experience in college, I am able to get in there and do his work for him. I don’t like doing this, but it is what we have to do for our family.”
Integrity is not only a family issue when it comes to college admissions, but it often extends across the collegiate experience. While the two cases above relate to online education, even during on-campus courses well-meaning parents or spouses are writing papers and doing other assignments for students. Plus, there is a huge industry out there in which a student can hire someone to write their papers or even take their online courses for them.
Sometimes the academic integrity violations come from within the institution. In January, 2019 the University of Missouri lost its football bowl eligibility for the upcoming season and had to pay heavy fines because a tutor completed the coursework for a dozen student athletes.
As an educator who strives to be a person of integrity, it is my opinion that there is an epidemic of academic integrity violations being committed every day by parents, spouses, tutors, hired help and others. For this reason, last year SmarterServices began offering SmarterID which is a service that uses facial recognition during the online portion of courses to make sure that the person doing the work is the actual person who is registered for the course.
When students know that they will randomly have to authenticate using facial recognition, this is a strong deterrent against getting someone else to do their academic work. SmarterID also tracks the amount of time it takes a person to authenticate which controls for a parent who is doing the work to call the student over when it is time to authenticate. The service also uses IP addresses to control for the geographic location at which the work is being done.
At the end of the day efforts such as using SmarterID may be most effective at keeping honest people honest. But hopefully they will prompt a moment of pause for that parent, spouse, tutor or other person to consider that the assistance they are giving is unethical and no more merited than these wealth parents who paid for their children to get into elite colleges.