Academic Dishonesty among Engineering Undergraduates in the United States

Academic Dishonesty among Engineering Undergraduates in the United States

Trevor S. Harding, Cynthia J. Finelli, Donald D. Carpenter
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1610-1.ch007
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Over the past 15-years the authors have undertaken a series of research studies examining the tendency of undergraduate engineering students to participate in unethical behaviors, such as academic dishonesty, and the nature of the decision-making that such students use when faced with an opportunity to behave unethically. The four studies, PACES-1, WES, PACES-2, and SEED, have elucidated the extent of the problem of academic dishonesty among engineering students and demonstrated that cheating in college is associated with unethical workplace behaviors. They have also confirmed that a model of ethical decision-making can successfully predict an individual's intention to engage in unethical behavior in the future. Finally, the studies have shown that, while engineering students' ethical reasoning improves throughout college, their tendency to engage in unethical behaviors such as cheating actually increases, suggesting there is a gap between moral judgment capacity and moral behavior.
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Engineering education has been concerned with teaching professional ethics to future engineers for many decades. This is probably best illustrated by the fact that the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requires that all engineering degree programs demonstrate that undergraduate engineering students have an ‘understanding of professional and ethical responsibility’ by the time they graduate from college in order for that degree program to receive accreditation (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology [ABET], 2015). While this requirement has spurred the development of myriad ethics education initiatives in engineering and much discussion of the importance of engineering ethics education, there is a paucity of data on the outcomes of these efforts and on the actual ethical decision-making and behavior of engineering students (Herkert, 2000; Herkert, Pritchard, Rabins, James, & Englehardt, 2002; Newberry, 2004). While the need for ethics education in engineering has been strong, there is little data indicating that various attempts to address it have had an impact on student behavior. One such behavior that may be influenced by ethics education is academic dishonesty or cheating.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Moral Development: A process through which one progresses from one view of how societies ought to be organized to another.

Shame: A distressed state in which the individual sees the self as wrong or deficient for having engaged in wrongful behaviors.

Workplace Misconduct: Violating the policies of one’s employer so as to personally benefit or to avoid punishment.

Subjective Norms: The perceived social pressure to perform or not perform a particular behavior.

Perceptions: A mental impression of a thing, person, or action.

Religiosity: Describes the degree to which an individual ascribes to a particular religious belief or engages in religious activities.

Demographic Factors: Characteristics that define a particular group within a population.

Moral Reasoning: The cognitive aspect of making moral choices when facing an ethical dilemma.

Moral Obligation: The tendency of an individual to feel compelled to avoid or engage in a behavior that is either opposed to or aligned with their values.

Deterrents: Factors that may inhibit an individual’s likelihood of engaging in a particular behavior.

Attitudes: A particular set of beliefs and/or dispositions toward a person, thing, or action such as cheating.

Situational Factors: Factors found in the environment (e.g., a classroom) within which the studied behavior is occurring.

Pro-Social Behavior: Behaviors which are aligned with accepted social norms within a particular context.

Anti-Social Behavior: Behaviors which are contrary to accepted social norms within a particular context.

Past Behavior: Whether someone has engaged in a particular behavior, in this case cheating, prior to the current study period.

Neutralizations: The tendency of an individual to project blame for their behavior onto other actors or situational factors.

Intention: An individual’s plan to carry out a behavior.

Academic Dishonesty: Use of unauthorized assistance by a student to deceive an instructor who is responsible for assigning academic credit for an assignment or similar activity.

Social Desirability Bias: The tendency of an individual to respond to surveys in such a way that portrays them in the most positive light.

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