The Role of Ethics and Morality Among College Students

Ethics and morality have one common link. The common link is that they pertain to a specific set of values. Values are a set of expected or implied assumptions on either a personal or societal level. Ethics and morals do have other links. They both follow a code of conduct that determines right from wrong. How society or an individual determines what is right or wrong is by establishing a set of values or a value system. It is society though that expects an individual to abide by a set of values or code of conduct. Sometimes the pressure can be unbearable and this is when many people resort to cheating the system. Cheating has become widespread over the past few decades especially in academic environments. Many students ignore ethical and moral decisions and cheat because it is easier. It is the mishandling of morality and ethical decision making among college students that must be addressed.

Let’s start with an example of how a college student might approach a situation requiring an ethical decision. In this example, we will name the individual Student A. After a long night of studying for an ethics exam (no pun intended) Student A is running on low energy and confidence. Aside from the countless hours of studying, Student A still has trouble understanding the material. On test day Student A feels unprepared for his exam. While strolling one of the hallways on the college campus Student A throws out his soda at a nearby trash can. He notices a packet hanging out of the trash can so he looks it over. To his surprise, it is the answer key to the ethics exam! Student A is both startled and excited. There is a problem though, Student A’s concise is saying “It could be cheating if I use this. On the other hand, maybe if I study the answers it won’t be considered cheating because I would have studied period.” Without remorse, Student A decides to choose the latter choice. When time comes to take the exam, the students are shocked to find that their ethics professor had tricked them and planted answer keys throughout the campus for students to find. The reason was to let the students use ethics first hand, which in turn was the exam itself. Now Student A found that he attempted to cheat on the exam but was set up. In most cases, many would feel guilty for attempting to cheat. The strange thing though is that most of the time the guilt surfaces after the decision to cheat is made. Sometimes people only feel guilty when they get caught cheating. This is a major issue among college students. Many succumb to the pressure to cheat without reasonable thinking. The guilt only becomes evident after the decision to cheat is made. The main problem is that students need to think carefully before making any hasty decisions. Many times teens and younger adults are always eager to jump on an opportunity without giving it a second thought. This is where the ethical dilemma arises.

In college, the role of ethics and morality are usually askew. Lets look at the definition of ethics courtesy of “The rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.” So in simplest terms, ethics are a code of conduct established by a human, group, culture, etc. Now lets look at the definition of morality also courtesy of “conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.” This means to act in accordance to “right” conduct. If examined closely, it’s noticeable that morality is more in terms of law and that right actions should be enforced. Ethics are more at a personal level and is more in terms of concisely knowing right from wrong. Morality has less of an in-depth meaning compared to ethics. So college students who cheat in some form experience a little of both morality and ethics. The ethical side is the student’s view of the situation. The morality side is the societal expectations of the student coming from sources such as faculty and their parents. It is usually outside pressures that inhibit a student to cheat. In Mark Clayton’s A Whole Lot of Cheatin’ Going On, Clayton states “Students say time and workload pressure are major factors spurring academic dishonesty, followed by parental pressure.” (The Presence of Others, 200). So factors such as amount of work, parental pressure, and academic pressure are usually a student’s determination of whether or not to cheat. Cheating can be considered a way for a student to vent off stresses involved with school. Many think the faster the work gets done, the faster it’s off of one’s own mind.

Students who cheat in college demonstrate lack of integrity. Integrity is when a person has a good moral sense and worth enabling them to be honest. Because of the pressure to cheat, many students set aside their integrity and proceed to cheat anyway. Academic integrity has become more mainstream in present day. In Stephen Carter’s The Rules about the Rules, he states “For it captures precisely what is wrong with America today: we care far more about winning than about playing by the rules.” (The Presence of Others, 179) This statement is oh so true with college students. Many feel they must get ahead as fast as they can. Many do not realize that retaining academic integrity can be a much more fulfilling experience. Lets look at an example from an outside perspective, Student A and Student B are undergraduate students from a local community college. Student A graduated with honors and awards, etc. Student B just managed to get by before graduating. Though no one knows, Student A has cheated most of his way through college but appears to be more successful while Student B did not cheat and graduated also without the extra flair. Now as time progresses, Student A and B both have professional careers but Student A is struggling to keep his job because of his poor job skills that he did not acquire while cheating at college. Student B is happy and fulfilled with his career. We see that if one lacks academic integrity, they may be hurting themselves later on while those who retain academic integrity may lead happy and satisfying lives.

In conclusion, the roles of morality and ethics among college students are indeed mishandled. Pressures from outside influences such as parents and school faculty prove to be a main source for cheating students. Those who do follow the rules prove their academic integrity. Overall, college is a stressful experience, but a good starting point for young people to learn proper ethical behavior.


Lunsford, Andrea A., and John J. Ruszkiewicz. “The Rules about the Rules.” Stephen L. Carter. The Presence of Others Voices and Images That Call for Response. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 179.

Lunsford, Andrea A., and John J. Ruszkiewicz. “A Whole Lot of Cheatin’ Going On.” Mark Clayton. The Presence of Others Voices and Images That Call for Response. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 200.

“ethics.” Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 28 Feb. 2009.>.

“morality.” Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 28 Feb. 2009.>.