College Students and Essay Mills

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s March edition includes an expose into  how Essay Mills work and their impact on college life.  For those who do not know, essay mills are companies that write original essays on demand for students.  They are different from companies that sell stock essays because essays from essay mills cannot be detected by plagiarism software.

The article traces the business of, one of the biggest essay mills in the world.  Essay Writers allows anyone, mostly American and British college students, to upload paper topics, specifications and due dates into an online form.  From there, Essay Writers puts these “writing requests” into a database that its freelance writers can browse and bid on.

Freelance writers can come from anywhere.  According to the article, there are many writers from Asia, Nigeria and some from the United States.  Once a writer bids on the project, the student gets a quote, usually between $19.99 and $42.99 per page, depending on due date, degree of difficulty and other specifications.

The article claims that students from all backgrounds are using essay mills:

Some customers of Essay Writers are college freshmen who, if their typo-laden, grammatically challenged order forms are any indication, struggle with even the most basic writing tasks. But along with the usual suspects, there is no shortage of seniors paying for theses and graduate students buying dissertations.

One customer, for example, identifies himself as a Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He or she (there is no name on the order) is interested in purchasing a 200-page dissertation. The student writes that the dissertation must be “well-researched” and includes format requirements and a general outline. Attached to the order is a one-page description of Ph.D. requirements taken directly from MIT’s Web site. The student also suggests areas of emphasis like “static and dynamic stability of aircraft controls.” 

The explosive growth, as well as acceptance by college students, of these essay mills is a troubling, not to mention scary, phenomenon.  Students from all levels of college are buying papers and not learning how to actually write or do proper research.  They treat a college degree as a credential, a piece of paper that is needed to get to the next step.

 The students come from all disciplines and all parts of the country. They go to community colleges and Ivy League universities. Some want a 10-page paper; others request an entire dissertation.

As these student graduate and enter the workforce with their credentials from American universities, are they going to be able to actually do any work? When they get an assignment at the office that they do not like, think is boring or believe is beneath them, what will they do? Will the mechanical engineer be able to actually design anything and will the freshmen ever learn how to write?

I am worried that many in my generation of workers are lazy and are not prepared to compete in the global economy.  I think that we are heading toward an economy that rewards those with skills, but does not offer as many opportunities to people without.  Students who are too lazy or uninterested in doing any actual learning are going to lose out in the global economy.  The Nigerians, Chinese and Filipinos writing American college students’ papers are going to be the ones who succeed in the global economy.  In essence, they are getting a college degree for free.  Others in developing countries are taking advantage of opportunities like these, whereas many Americans are not.  These workers are willing to work hard and go the extra mile in order to succeed, something that is seemingly lacking in many American college students.

So what is the solution?  I am a realist; plagiarism has been around forever and I would guess that many, if not most, college and high school students have engaged in some form of it during their academic careers.  There is a continuium between writing one’s own work on one end, to buying a paper from an essay mill on the other, with paraphrasing wikipedia somewhere in between.

Just like with drugs, sex and alcohol, simply telling students its wrong will not come close to making a dent in the problem.  I think educators, starting in middle school, should begin to show students why its necessary to get a good education.  Plagiarizing is simply robbing oneself of part of the opportunity to succeed in a future job.  I would start by telling students about globalization.  I would teach them about outsourcing and how the entire world is interconnected.  Let them know that there is probably a kid in China, Korea, India, Brazil or Nigeria working as hard as possible to succeed in life.  I would keep teaching these lessons through their academic careers so that they can see real life examples of the people they are competing against in the job market.  Simply telling students that plagiarism is wrong will not work.  People need concrete examples of why it will hurt them in both the short and long run.  I am not optimistic that any of this will ever happen, but it would be a good experiment to see if cheating could be reduced using some sort of curriculum like this.

HT: Freakonomics


  • Someone has read Friedman’s “The WOrld is Flat”…

  • Someone has read Friedman’s “The WOrld is Flat”…

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