Professional Cheating- the Rise of Essay Mills

Posted on: 03/19/09 8:53 AM | by Jonathan McKee

My mom, a professor at California State University in Sacramento, just slipped me a fascinating article about college level cheating. Apparently cheating is gradually becoming a booming business.

Cheating is a huge temptation for students today. In a December, 2007 Youth Culture Window article, we cited research revealing that 95% of students admitted cheating on some level (copying homework, etc.). In a recent blog, I highlighted a 2008 study from the Josephson Institute, revealing 64% of U.S. high school students have cheated on a test, and 36% used the internet to plagerize an assignment (up from 33% in 2004). According to the same study, 93% of these students were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.

Since “guilt” is obviously out of the picture, the only thing stopping cheaters from cheating is the fear of “getting caught.” Smart cheaters are aware of plagiarism-detection software and are turning to paper mills.

What is a paper mill?

Good question.

Here’s an excerpt from the article my mom sent me:

The orders keep piling up. A philosophy student needs a paper on Martin Heidegger. A nursing student needs a paper on dying with dignity. An engineering student needs a paper on electric cars.

Screen after screen, assignment after assignment — hundreds at a time, thousands each semester. 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.

This is what an essay mill looks like from the inside. Over the past six months, with the help of current and former essay-mill writers, The Chronicle looked closely at one company, tracking its orders, examining its records, contacting its customers. The company, known as Essay Writers, sells so-called custom essays, meaning that its employees will write a paper to a student’s specifications for a per-page fee. These papers, unlike those plucked from online databases, are invisible to plagiarism-detection software.

These paper mills don’t see cheating as a problem. They see it as an opportunity to make money. The article goes on:

That’s pretty much how Charles Parmenter sees it. He wrote for Essay Writers and another company before quitting about a year ago. “If anybody wants to say this is unethical — yeah, OK, but I’m not losing any sleep over it,” he says. Though he was, he notes, nervous that his wife would react badly when she found out what he was doing. As it happens, she didn’t mind.

Mr. Parmenter, who is 54, has worked as a police officer and a lawyer over the course of a diverse career. He started writing essays because he needed the money and he knew he could do it well. He wrote papers for nursing and business students, along with a slew of English-literature essays. His main problem, he says, is that the quality of his papers was too high. “People would come back to me and say, ‘It’s a great paper, but my professor will never believe it’s me,'” says Mr. Parmenter. “I had to dumb them down.”

And apparently religious studies courses aren’t off limits. The article cites how one individual paid Essay Writers $100 to research and write a paper on the parables of Jesus Christ for his New Testament class. At the time, the senior at James Madison University who was majoring in philosophy and religion, defended the idea of paying someone else to do your academic work, comparing it to companies that outsource labor. “Like most people in college, you don’t have time to do research on some of these things,” he said. “I was hoping to find a guy to do some good quality writing.”


5 Replies to “Professional Cheating- the Rise of Essay Mills”

  1. there is an attitude out there that says, “if you’re smart enough to get away with it, you have earned it.” philisophically we are supposed to strive to be higher and nobler. and practically i hope my doctor or cpa or architect etc. didn’t do this in school.

  2. on a lighter note, someone once said, “if you copy one man’s work, it’s called pagiarism. if you copy many men’s work, it’s called research. makes you wonder if there’s any original thoughts left out there. 😉

  3. I never thought much about it, but I may have done something similar. I always ‘cleaned up’ papers grammatically for others (even for a fee sometimes). In some cases, it invovled a great deal of work. This was during my time at Bible college, and mostly for pastors and youth ministers! Is ‘proofing’ the same thing as a paper mill?

  4. No, ‘proofing’ is not the same at all. That’s akin, in the publishing world, to the copy editor. The person wrote their own work (including research) and now you’re helping them write better.

  5. It’s all a shame. I’m a teacher and student and would have to say that this ‘get someone else to write your essay’ is a rising problem. It does nothing for the student – after all the reason for study is to gain knowledge. If you’re not doing that what’s the point? You may say to get a degree – but a degree is a means to an end. The end is the application of that knowledge and if you’ve none to apply?

    Don’t cheat. Don’t write for others to cheat.

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