In 2014, the market research firm Global Industry Analyst projected online education would be a $100 billion business by 2015. That value will only grow if the public begins to see online degrees as carrying the same weight as the ones earned in a traditional college classroom.
It’s also the kind of money that can bring out the cheater in some. Businesses are already cropping up that will assume students’ identities and do their coursework for them, for a fee.
“If a goal of online education proponents is to convince the public and employers that an online education is as official and prestigious as a traditional one earned in brick-and-mortar and Ivy classrooms, it’s hard to imagine anything more damaging than identity-fraud schemes in which students literally pay for grades but do no work whatsoever,” wrote Derek Newton in his report in The Atlantic. “At least with a traditional degree, the assumption is the recipient actually went to class personally.”
Newton also suspects there may be more to online cheating than Internet firms making money off people who want college credit without doing the work. He suggested that the low cost of production and the high number of students an online course can reach could be an incentive for institutions to concern themselves less with online cheating.
“In at least this way, it seems both the schools and the cheating providers have a similar economic incentive: They may both profit by having more online students,” he wrote.
Newton noted there are steps available to cut down on online impersonation. Using video technology for more direct engagement between the students and teacher is one avenue. Another would be to encourage more interaction between students themselves.
“If online college programs are ever going to compete with traditional ones, the advocates and providers should at least acknowledge the threat of online cheating and take steps to stop it—even if that means increasing costs and slowing the growth of online options,” he wrote.