In case you missed it, The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article written by "Ed Dante" (a psuedonym) about his/her experience writing papers for desperate/lazy college students. I'd put "The Shadow Scholar" in the "must read" category for all those interested in higher education, and in the "well worth your time" category for everybody else.
The author makes decent money (on pace for 66K this year) writing papers for students and says that a student has never complained about getting caught. The process and stories are interesting, but the author makes two main points:
1.) A lot of students are absolutely awful at writing and more should be done about this.
2.) A lot of assignments are ridiculous and drive students to look for other solutions (including purchasing papers)
I wholeheartedly agree with the first and half agree with the second.
The comments are almost as interesting as (though more tedious than) the article itself. Between the author, the commenters, and my own head, there seem to be some competing hypotheses as to why a not insignificant number of students cheat in one way or another, particularly on written assignments. In no particular order, they are:
1.) Professors assign meaningless/useless/stupid assignments
-large class sizes prevent individualized assignments
-more concerned with research than teaching
2.) Students don't know how to write
-they're non-native speakers
-they didn't learn how to write during K-12 schooling
-their college profs don't take the time to teach them how to write
3.) Students are unethical
-they don't understand what's ethical and what's not
-ethics and morals aren't emphasized enough in school
-a few bad apples make everyone look bad
-lots of pressure to get good grades; little pressure to behave ethically
-they don't value the assignments they're asked to complete or the courses they must take
4.) Unethical people make it easy to cheat
-some people care more about money than ethics
-people think they're doing others a service since they think the assignments are stupid
I don't think any of these fully explain the situation, but I do think they all shed a little bit of light on it. In short, there are plenty of people and institutions at whom we can point fingers . . . but wouldn't it be more productive if we instead focused on fixing the problem?