A counselor called recently with questions about plagiarism at the college level. He wondered if plagiarism is a problem on campuses, and if high school students are prepared for the ramifications of this type of literary theft.

The counselor and I decided that many incoming college students aren’t prepared because they still plagiarize. Different studies find that roughly 36 to 54 percent of college students admitted to plagiarizing. And that may not count those doing “unintentional” plagiarism, which is when students change a word or two in a sentence and believe that makes it an original sentence (that’s one example, anyway).

Photo courtesy of UW-Platteville

Many professors explain plagiarism at the beginning of the semester, and some explain the difference between paraphrasing and plagiarism. They also explain the consequences.

Sometimes, the consequence is assignment-specific. The instructor first has a discussion with the student about the issue. Consequences may include a reprimand, a repeat assignment, a lower or failing grade for the assignment, or removal from the course.

Campuses have the right to place students on probation or suspension for reasons of academic misconduct, including plagiarism. When students in the UW System get suspended, they are often surprised to find that the other UW System campuses will not admit them until the conditions of the suspension have been met. Because there is a note placed on the student’s transcript, campuses beyond the UW System may or may not admit the student at their own discretion. Students may also be expelled. Plagiarizing can seriously affect a student’s time-to-degree.

Each campus has its own policy about working with students who have plagiarized. Our best advice? Students need to know how to cite another person’s contributions, and how to plan in advance for the amount of time and critical thinking it takes to complete college-level projects in their own voice.