Penn State MBA program roots out plagiarism

Posted: February 22, 2013

The similarity in essay after essay was striking to Carrie Marcinkevage, then admissions director of the master of business administration program at Pennsylvania State University's Smeal College of Business.

Through their own investigation that year, she and her colleagues found that 29 MBA applicants had plagiarized their essays - from the same two sources. That was 2009.

"We realized how ridiculously error-ridden and inefficient that was," said Marcinkevage, now MBA managing director at Smeal. "For every one we caught, who didn't we?"

The school subsequently began using Turnitin, an Oakland, Calif., company that specializes in uncovering plagiarism.

This year, the service helped Smeal find 48 applicants - about 8 percent of the pool - who apparently plagiarized their admissions essays since October, she said. All were rejected.

About 50 percent of the offenders were from other countries, in which plagiarism may not be held in quite the same disdain as in the United States, she said. "Attribution is not nearly the issue that it is here," she said.

About a third of Smeal MBA applicants overall are international.

Smeal has the prohibition on plagiarism posted on its website with a definition of plagiarism, and applicants regardless of their home country have an obligation to follow the rules, she said.

More than 100 colleges nationally employ Turnitin to uncover plagiarism in admissions applications, said Chris Harrick, vice president of marketing. There are other colleges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey but they have asked that their use not be publicized, he said.

Plagiarism has not dropped in the applicant pool since Smeal has been using the service, Marcinkevage said.

"The pool turns over every year with new consumers," she explained.

But the tough approach has "virtually eliminated plagiarism in the classroom," she said.

"I think there's a real case to be made for academic integrity here," she said. "If you eliminate [a problem] on the way in, you can eliminate it in the classroom."


Contact Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @ssnyderinq. Read her blog, "Campus Inq" at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/campus_inq .

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