Custom Essays And The Decline of Education

An article this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education really stirred me. The article is written by an anonymous writer who gets paid $66,000/year to write essays for students. The article goes in depth about some of the situations he’s been in, how he does it, and the types of students who get custom essays written. For those of you who don’t want to click through or who don’t want to read the whole article here are a few parts that really got me:

I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

That’s right my friends, this ghost writer doesn’t even write in one particular field – he writes in EVERY field. Whatever is asked for he researches and learns.

At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.

Just think about that. 50 writers who are paid to do nothing but write students essays for them are not enough for this ONE company to keep up with student demand. And there are hundreds of them.

The proposal was approved, and now I had six days to complete the assignment. This was not quite a rush order, which we get top dollar to write. This assignment would be priced at a standard $2,000, half of which goes in my pocket.

ZOMG – $1,000 for 6 days worth of work? Did I just read that corrently? And wait – a student is PAYING $2,000 to have someone write their paper for them…

From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.

For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let’s be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical.

I can’t argue that such a service is indeed perfect for the lazy rich kid.

I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy assessments, poems, lab reports, and, yes, even papers on academic integrity, that it’s hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating.

Okay, I’ll stop with the quoting here, because honestly the article is so good that I could probably quote the entire thing. And from an educator point of view this frightens me.

The rich kids, we have all known since 1980s movies that the rich kids are going to hire someone to do their homework. Now they have a more anonymous way to do it. The ESL kids, man, honestly I just feel a little bad for them because in a lot of ways I can see how our educational system has forced them into having to cheat just to keep up.

What concerns me the most, as an educator, is the third group: the hopelessly deficient student. It concerns me that there is an entire group of students in college that shouldn’t be in college. They don’t have the ability, the intelligence, the gumption, the ambition for college – yet they’re forced to go by societal and parental pressures. They don’t care, they don’t want to be there, they’re hopelessly lost in classes above their intellect level.

A professor in my department told me the story of two students who turned in papers that were eerily similar. Upon questioning the students separately, the first one readily admitted that he cheated for the other student and not to do anything about it. “Please don’t do anything, I’ve been helping him pass his classes since we were freshmen in high school. He wouldn’t be able to pass the classes if it wasn’t for me.

For me this essay illustrates two very important points:

1. Our educational and cultural system is flawed beyond belief that we send students to college who shouldn’t be there. College used to be seen as the place where the most educated in society went. Now it is seen by a lot of students as a four (to six) year party for anyone who can stomach the student loans to go. You don’t have to be bright or talented to go to college – you just have to be willing to take on debt.

2. What about the educators? Behind every essay or report written is a professional. Either a full time writer or a part time writer. Imagine the educator who teaches students and watches for plagiarized essays by day, and then by night writes custom essays for paying clients. To put it bluntly: if teachers are willing to do this on the side to get extra money, shouldn’t we be paying teachers more so they’re not tempted by services like this?!

Upon reading the article I decided to do a little investigation – how easy would it be to find someone to be a custom writer for me if I wanted the service? A quick Google search of “custom essays” gave me 1.8 million hits. Dang. Each one promising profession writing, guaranteed to not be plagiarized, written to your specifications, rewrites available, priced per page.

I did a Live Chat with one of their representatives (see the picture in this post). Wanna become a writer? Just email them your C.V. and they’ll get back to you. I wonder… do they have to make sure that you’re not fake first? Do they have to see if you haven’t lied about your education? Why would it matter – you’re just going to lie to your “customers” anyway. And how do they know that you didn’t just hire a service like theirs to get your Masters degree?

The entire idea of this disturbs me on a deep and fundamental level. And then another part of me thinks: Well, the students are going to do this anyway, so why not profit from it?

And I imagined a scenario where in my evenings I was writing lab reports for college level students and suddenly came across a request from one of my students. They wouldn’t know it was me. I wouldn’t know exactly who they were. But I’d know from the assignment that it was  my student. What would I do?

How can we trust our educational system and the people who are produced from it when you can get a degree without ever attending a class or putting together a thought of your own? What are we going to become? Or better yet: Where can we go from this?

12 thoughts on “Custom Essays And The Decline of Education

  1. Wow! Pay $2000 for an essay. I never would have done that in college or even now. I wonder how many of these essays are caught as fraudulent by professors. I hope that quite a few are. It’s just not fair. Yes, I know that life isn’t fair but this is downright dishonest and cheating.

    I absolutely agree that we should pay teachers more. They are educating our children and therefore are the future. I’m in North Dakota and teachers start out making about $26,000 a year. Right across the border in Minnesota, they start out at about $30-35,000 which could still be better.

    I think that if teachers are caught doing this that they should lose their teaching license. It is harsh but then they might not be so willing to cheat the system.

    1. The reality is that you CAN’T tell that the student didn’t write it. That is the big issue. The essays are custom written, so they aren’t plagiarized, but they are also fraudulent.

      The only way a professor could be “sure” is to only do in class writing assignments – which pulls away from doing research.

  2. I don’t see how a prof would be able to tell if these are done as professionally as they claim to be. I’ve graded many a paper in my day, and I don’t know how you could reasonably go figuring out who wrote it.

    This is certainly a disturbing trend. The Pollyanna in me wants to believe that the people who take advantage of such services regularly will one day be found out-to have poor communication skills, because are you going to pay a service to write a business document for you? Would that be cost effective?

    It raises questions about whether we should even assign term papers. If you just give exams, it avoids this issue for the most part. It would certainly disadvantage a huge group of students who don’t test well, and would only teach people to take good tests, rather than think, explore and research an hypothesis thoroughly and forumalte ideas clearly. It’s just a sad state of affairs. I’m stumped as to what the answer is to this issue.

    1. I think writing blocks is the answer. Schedule time where the student will work IN CLASS on their writing assignment. Almost a “writing lab” component to a course. Then you’re assured that the work is their own as they did it in front of you.

      Or written assignments that only take 20-50 minutes to do.

      Or have written assignments only be typed in a testing center on campus.

  3. Silliness. I have seen sites advertising things like this, and I would never take advantage of them. What a waste of money and intelligence. Do it yourself, own up. It’s sad that so many people DO use these types of services. Makes you worry doesn’t it? I’d much rather do the research for the course I’ve already paid for rather than pay a huge sum of money to be lazy.

  4. Fascinating, eye opening.

    I offer proofing/editing services (almost exclusively for ESOL students) and I can’t tell you how many times I get requests asking me to write assignments/essays/reports for them. I’d say the query for ghostwriting v editing is 50/50.

  5. Between this and the whole “schools aren’t giving out F’s anymore” news stories, I am at a loss for words.

    Great post, but what a mess

    1. Heh, I have no qualms about giving an F if a student earns one. That said, in education today you have to actively TRY to get an F. Any student that puts forth an ounce of effort will get a D. You have to not turn anything in, never go to class and fail/miss miserably the exams the get an F.

      That said, I have 3 students who are doing just that.

  6. Wow. This post really blew my mind! Most shocking to me is that there are students out there who can afford to pay $2,000 for a paper! Seriously!?

    I agree with your point toward the end of your post. My husband and I were talking about my “baby” brother over the weekend. He is 17 years old and will be graduating high school May 2011. He is a bright kid, but he’s unmotivated to do his work. He’s talked about going to automotive school, and Mr. Red said if he was uninterested in that he should “just suck it up and go to a university now.” Mostly through my own experiences, I’ve come to realize that college is not for everyone. Not everyone is academically minded. Not everyone can stomach the work it takes to do well in school, especially when there’s no one there requiring you to go. I just hope my parents recognize this and don’t try to force him into something he’s clearly not interested in. College isn’t for everyone, but somehow, we’ve let ourselves be tricked into thinking it is.

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