Essay Mills Providing a "Side Door" for College Students

Essay Mills Providing a "Side Door" for College Students
Susan Dutca-Lovell

Thirteen parents and one coach charged in the "Operation Varsity Blues" college cheating scandal will plead guilty in accordance with plea agreements. While elite parents implicated in the admissions scandal cheated to help their children get into college, there is a growing concern about how students, in general, may be cheating their way through college; specifically by buying ghostwritten essays online.

Within mere minutes of expressing her frustration on Twitter over an essay assignment, on unidentified student received five to six offers from individuals willing to write her essay for $10 a page, according to NPR. Having someone ghostwrite her essay isn't exactly cheating, according to the student, because "they write everything on their own." Although the essay may not be flagged by anti-plagiarism software because it may be the authentic work of the ghostwriter, it is still not the original content of the student. For some students who use essay mills, this isn't so much cheating but rather, a "gray area."

Purchasing essays online is no new concept, but what used to be a "small side hustle" has evolved into a "global industry of so-called essay mills." Students who struggle in writing essays and who conduct searches such as "how do I get help with my essay?" are especially targeted. In some cases, firms and individuals offering made-to-order essays infiltrate private messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, guaranteeing that the paper will have a "0% similarity index," according to The Guardian. Quality essays are not always provided and some buyers who complained were threatened with blackmail by the essay mills.

Essay mills market aggressively, even offline, by leafleting on campus and disseminating emails that appear to come from official college help centers. One writer at essay mill EduBirdie claims that "turning in her work as [student's] doesn't bother her." Contract cheating is particularly disconcerting to university officials, as it promotes dishonest behavior and sends underqualified individuals into the workforce.

To combat contract cheating, schools are looking into advanced technology that can inspect document metadata, such as when it was created, by whom and how many times it was edited. Furthermore, it analyzes students' style of writing - such as punctuation and line spacing - to detect inconsistencies and determine if the student actually wrote the submitted essay. At the end of the day, trying to "engage in a technological arms with the students" may not be enough; the ultimate solution might just be to "remind them why it's wrong."

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