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Keywords:

  • decision-making;
  • environment;
  • ethics

Background

Recent national reports have indicated the need for an increased emphasis on the ethical development of engineering undergraduates. Despite this call for increased focus on ethical development, little is known about how engineering students make ethical decisions or how these decisions are related to personal differences and environmental influences.

Purpose (Hypothesis)

This is an exploratory investigation to determine which demographic, academic, moral reasoning, and decision-making variables are predictive of the extent of test cheating among engineering undergraduates. Rather than beginning with a particular hypothesis, the study investigates predictive relationships between the variables described above and self-reported rates of test cheating among engineering undergraduates.

Design/Method

Three hundred and eighty eight engineering undergraduates from three Midwestern U.S. institutions completed a survey based on a modified version of the theory of planned behavior as a conceptual framework. The three institutions are of different Carnegie classifications, sizes, missions, and institutional cultures.

Results

Results indicate that our proposed model of ethical decision-making was successful in predicting the behavioral outcome with regard to college test cheating and there were observed significant differences in the level of cheating between institutions. However, institution as a variable was not a predictive of behavior.

Conclusions

The effect of institution on cheating was mitigated through other measured variables including past high school cheating, involvement in Pan-Hellenic groups, moral obligation, and perceived behavioral control. It is these underlying predictive variables that need to be addressed when engineering educators and student affairs staff consider the issue of unethical undergraduate behavior.