Institutions have an academic integrity policy in place to uphold their academic reputation. But the road to academic integrity starts before students arrive on campus — it begins within the admissions process.

We must start enforcing an academic integrity policy within the admissions process.

This means screening for plagiarized or ghostwritten admissions essays as well as other dishonest information in admissions applications.

Why is this a mandate? Admitting students with a track record of integrity is core to ensuring your institution’s reputation. Screening for authenticity is essential to academic reputation because research has shown a link between academic dishonesty and later workplace deviance.

Addressing Academic Integrity

Particular research has been done on business students — the most formative work being that of Sarath Nonis and Cathy Owens Swift’s oft-cited paper, “An Examination of the Relationship Between Academic Dishonesty and Workplace Dishonesty: A Multicampus Investigation” (2001).

In their research, Nonis and Swift found a link between past academic dishonesty in business school students and future workplace deviance. They state in their overview:

“This article addresses academic integrity in both the classroom and the work environment. The authors found that students who believed that cheating, or dishonest acts, are acceptable were more likely to engage in these dishonest behaviors. Additionally, students who engaged in dishonest acts in college classes were more likely to engage in dishonest acts in the workplace” (2001, p. 76).

Simply stated, students who cheat in high school are more likely to cheat in college, are more likely to cheat in graduate school, are more likely to cheat in the workplace. And this isn’t the only piece of research that has come to this conclusion.

Nonis and Swift’s findings are substantiated by both earlier and subsequent research. Octavio Rojoui and Valentina Rojoui examined such a link in their paper entitled “Academic Dishonesty and Workplace Dishonesty” (2014) and state:

“There is a chain of weaknesses in terms of the manifestation of unethical behavior. The individuals who have chosen to be dishonest in high school and college can hardly “rid” from it in the workplace” (2014, p. 932).

Consequences of Admitting Dishonest Students

The link is clear and the consequences are alarming. Bob S. Brown and Peggy Choong (2005) offer a stern warning in “An Investigation of Academic Dishonesty Among Business Students at Public and Private United States Universities”:

“Concern over dishonest behavior at our institutions of higher learning should extend beyond campus boundaries. Dishonesty on the campus is likely a result of students' ethics and values that they will take with them when they graduate and move into the workplace.”

While it’s possible to redirect students who cheat or plagiarize, recidivism remains a daunting task and one that can exhaust institutional resources. And it’s hardly the goal of an admissions committee to admit a student who cheats or the goal of an admissions committee to admit a dishonest student whose space can be taken by a qualified, honest future alum.

A student who is academically dishonest in the admissions process is more likely to engage in academic misconduct once enrolled and beyond. The nature of dishonesty is such that it continues if undetected.

Once in the workforce, this student becomes a representative of your institution. Therefore, the academic integrity of your alums is integral to your academic reputation. Academic integrity, if a part of a campus’s core values and reputation, must be part of the screening process.

That said, the admissions process must not be clouded by suspicion.

As much as it’s critical to screen for academic dishonesty within an application, it’s equally important for the admissions committee to read applications without prejudice. The admissions process must not be a policing event; after all, integrity swings both ways.

So how can an institution use policy to uphold academic integrity within the admissions process?

  • Make a clear academic integrity statement and make clear that you will be enforcing these standards within the admissions process. This may deter students from taking shortcuts with their applications.
      • Ask applicants to sign an academic integrity policy within the admissions process.
      • Invite students, alums, as well as faculty to formulate and sign off on your institution’s academic integrity admissions policy.
  • Implement tools such as Kira Talent and iThenticate for Admissions to look at applications holistically and screen them for potential plagiarism. This takes the burden off admissions officers so that they can focus on positive attributes of the applicant pool.

While it’s nearly impossible to eradicate plagiarism and cheating, it’s important to take a stand and make clear your institution’s goals in the admissions process. It’s important to uphold academic integrity at your gates so that your admissions committee is free to screen with clear minds.

Safeguarding your institution’s academic reputation by shoring up your admissions process with tools and an academic integrity policy is a monumental, yet attainable goal. Ensuring honesty in the application process ensures a student body that will represent your institution with excellence, a goal that your institution, faculty, administration, and alums all share.