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Why it doesn't matter that Harvard's incoming class is full of cheaters
Nearly half of the university's freshmen have admitted to cheating on their homework in high school
Harvard's freshman class is not exactly a paragon of high ethical standards.
Harvard's freshman class is not exactly a paragon of high ethical standards. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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survey by Harvard's Crimson newspaper found that the incoming freshman class is chock full of cheaters.

Specifically, 10 percent of those who took the survey admitted to having cheated on an exam before arriving at Harvard, 17 percent confessed to having cheated on a take-home assignment or paper, and 42 percent copped to having cheated on a problem set or piece of homework.

"Turns out that that 'C' isn’t just for 'Crimson,'" says Paul Whitefield at The Los Angeles Times.

Matt Yglesias at Slate explains why it makes sense that Harvard might attract cheaters:

Harvard tries to admit people who it thinks will grow up to be rich and successful and make the school even richer and more famous and aptitude at cheating is very much a form of aptitude that can lead to success and fortune in the real word. [Slate]

The numbers also seem in step with a rash of recent cheating scandals at the school. In February, the school accused up to 60 students of cheating on a take-home exam from the previous spring, and forced them to withdraw from school for up to a year. And in March, the school was stripped of four championship quiz bowl titles after it was discovered that a member of the team had access to the questions before the tournaments.

But is Harvard's incoming class really remarkable for its preponderance of cheaters?

Not really.

"[I]t would be foolish to believe that Harvard students, with their exceptional GPAs or life stories, are also exceptional in their propensity for cheating," says Alice Robb at The New Republic. "High school students of all calibers cheat."

Bloomberg's Zara Kessler agrees. "[W]e shouldn’t be overly harsh on Harvard; the percentages probably wouldn't be much different elsewhere," Kessler writes. Out of 23,000 high-school students surveyed by the Josephson Institute in 2012, 51 percent admitted to having cheated on an exam within the last year — topping Harvard's 10 percent by quite a bit. In addition, 85 percent admitted to cheating in some capacity before leaving high school.

Based on those numbers, Harvard's freshmen look like exemplars of academic ethics. And even if Harvard were swarming with cheaters, it's likely that other schools are, too.

Carmel Lobello is the business editor at TheWeek.com. Previously, she was an editor at DeathandTaxesMag.com.

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