By: Lara Greenberg
MILLERSVILLE, Pa. -- With spring time comes the end of the traditional academic year, and at all colleges across the country, it's time for finals, and that often means long papers and assignments that students choose to pull all-nighters.
While the Internet makes it easier to access information and research, it may also be causing problems, with students using online websites to buy papers.
There are dozens of websites that can be found which allow people to purchase papers for school.
CBS 21 investigated some of those websites, and purchased a paper, then brought it to a college professor to see if she could tell it was purchased, and if so, what would she do if she discovered a student did the same thing.
Some of these websites are called essay farms. Students are able to purchase the fruits of someone else's labor and turn it in as their own work.
"I haven't seen a lot of this, but maybe that's because it works," said Millersville University Academic Administration Associate Provost Jeff Adams.
Students are able to explain the premise of the assignment, include their deadline and pay for the paper by page.
Some of the webpages, as CBS 21 reporter Lara Greenberg discovered, are poorly written themselves.
One website had written, "Do you think you can find better essay writing company then pimpmypaper.com?"
To put the website to a test, professors at Millersville University in Lancaster County provided a prompt from a cinema course to request a paper through one of these websites.
With the required information, a five-page paper was requested and a week was given for the paper to be completed. Total cost was $147.
Upon receiving the paper, it was handed to Millersville University English Department chairperson Jill Craven. She teaches English and cinema courses.
"If this had been turned in to me by one of my students, I would be sorely disappointed," Craven said. "When there started to be factual errors, which was in the first paragraph, I immediately said, 'Well let me take a look at that book.'"
Craven checked the books listed in the paper's bibliography and realized it was fabricated.
Craven said she checked four references in the bibliography and none of them were accurate.
She said she wouldn't have necessarily been able to tell the paper was purchased, but she said it was bad enough she would have failed the student anyway.
"I would actually give it a zero because of the fabricated resources," Craven said.
Adams said he hasn't seen too many students buying papers online, but he knows the essay farms are out there and has seen them himself.
"This might well rise to the level where the faculty would be requesting the student receive an automatic F for the course," Adams said. "The part that's hardest is not that they offer the service, it's that the language suggests that this is normal."
For a suspicious paper, Adams said faculty are expected to contact the provosts, and then a panel reviews the situation to determine if there's any wrongdoing and how the student should be punished.
"Typically if the faculty comes to me, the faculty is usually requesting the student be given an automatic failing grade in the course," Adams said.
Elizabethtown College has a similar system. If a student turns in a suspicious paper several faculty members meet with the student.
"There is an appeals process if a student wanted to appeal to a group called the Academic Review Board. But we do take it quite seriously," said Elizabethtown College General Education and Assessment Assistant Dean Brian Newsome.
Millersville and Elizabethtown use an online program called Turn It In. Students submit their papers online, then they are compared to others that have been previously submitted.
The program also cross-checks papers and looks for plagiarism.
The paper writing websites found by CBS 21 promise to be plagiarism-free, but professors said that's doubtful.
"They're recycling as much material as they can to avoid doing a lot of work themselves," Newsome said.
Craven acknowledged plagiarism is a problem on college campuses.
"When I started to teach the course, and I got the first set of papers, I found that 30 percent of the papers had been plagiarized," Craven said.
She said the essay farms are just the latest fad for harvesting unoriginal papers.
"It's pretty rampant. It's a business," Craven said.
As for the paper submitted by CBS 21, Craven was surprised by the price.
"It's a wreck. This paper cost $147? Oh my goodness. You didn't tell me that," Craven said.
Craven said she didn't think it was worth it.
Federal law does not allow colleges to discuss student academic issues with parents unless the student signs a release because students are adults.
As for a refund for any paper, some websites off a money back guarantee, but do request proof of a failing grade.