It looks like Purdue won’t be following Pennsylvania State University’s footsteps to combat plagiarism in application essays.
The Krannert School of Management receives around 15,000 applications every year for their MBA and master’s degree programs. A team of admissions officers look at thousands of applications to make sure they are qualified to call themselves Boilermakers. But whether or not they look closely enough for plagiarism is another question.
Penn State’s Smeal College of Business reported they rejected 48 applicants this year due to plagiarism in the applicants’ essays. Stacey Dorang Peeler, MBA admissions director at Penn State, said the admissions team found a similar pattern in the applicants’ essays and decided to do something about it.
“Three years ago, we were reviewing applications and we came across several applications that said the same thing, which brought (it) to our attention,” Dorang Peeler said. “So we went back to review all of the applications and we found (in) that particular year two sources that were plagiarized in several different applications. That was the first year and we really took notice of it.”
Penn State now uses the Turnitin system online where students will turn in their application essays electronically and the system will check for any possible plagiarism.
The School of Management’s director and associate director of admissions, Brian Precious and Andráe Sailes, said they’re aware of the Turnitin program at Penn State, but it is just not feasible with their budget.
“By reading all the applications, we talk as a team about if we see themes that come up over and over again,” Precious said. “We’ll do an investigation and if we have any reason to believe that a student copied from another student or from a source on the Internet, that student will be immediately removed from consideration.”
Sailes noted that, although he does not know the exact number, about five percent of all applicants are rejected due to plagiarism.
“But I think our team does a really good job. As we’re reviewing files (and) because we do such a personal touch with the files, you can start to see the same things over and over again,” Sailes said. “We can easily look back and remember the student’s name. We definitely take this as a very serious matter, because this also reflects the student’s performance in the program.”
The Turnitin system isn’t foolproof because it doesn’t check for the possibility of the student paying a professional writer to write the essay, Precious said. During the normal interview process for the MBA program, the interviewer will ask the applicant a few questions about their essay to make sure everything checks out.
“We’re going to compare their speaking skills to their essay style,” Precious said. “So if the essay is extremely well-written (with) no grammatical mistakes, but the person speaks in a way that doesn’t convey that they’re a native speaker, that’s going to raise a red flag.”
Mitch Warren, director of admissions for domestic undergraduate and transfer students at Purdue, said he has not seen plagiarism as a big problem during the admission process for undergraduates.
“We don’t see it as a big issue,” Warren said. “We would never ever condone it, but we have not unearthed a ton of students doing that. Partially because it’s only one small part of the application and it only represents a couple of hours that the student took to write it.”
Dorang Peeler said the integrity of the applicant should be taken into account when reviewing the applications.
“I think in a society that has experienced some improprieties in the business world over the last several years, I think it’s good to keep integrity at the top of the mind, and whether colleges decide using a system like Turnitin for admissions is right or not,” Dorang Peeler said. “I think certainly keeping a focus on how important that could be in the business world is crucial.”
Precious responded by stating what Krannert stands for in the business world.
“I completely concur with (Dorang Peeler’s) conclusion. We’re a business school; we’re training people to lead future organizations,” Precious said. “We need people who not only have the technical skills and the leadership skills, but who can uphold the highest standards of integrity.”
The Turnitin system won’t be utilized by Purdue anytime soon. Precious said he would rather see funds be used towards the students at Purdue.
“If there was extra money, I would be pushing for more scholarships that gives us more ability to recruit for top students,” Precious said. “I’m not in any way saying that technology is not important, but I think we have a pretty good idea of whether or not a student has been honest in their application.”