Where do essay mills come from?
Academic Fraud has not just emerged as an issue of the digital age. The concept of essay mills (also called term paper mills) and ghostwriters has been around since the nineteenth century. Student organizations such as fraternities stored academic work in “file banks” and passed old term papers from student to student. This recycling concept inspired the commercial market, which was the beginning of the ghostwriting industry and commercial essay mills.
By 1950, essay mills advertised their services right on college campuses, handing out pamphlets and hanging up posters with pricing tables to offer recycled work ranging from regular homework to entire dissertations.
Essay mills were thriving throughout the 60s and 70s. Increasing political and community involvement caused students to focus more on social activities outside the classroom rather than spending time on academic work. Additionally, essay mill businesses used more and more money to advertise their services, luring students to purchase their academic degrees instead of actually earning them. During that time – in which no plagiarism checkers existed – most work was simply recycled. Ghostwriters offered customized work for additional fees.
Are essay mills legal?
Yes, essay mills are legal. The argument is that essay mills only sell essays with the intention to inspire students and teach them how an ideal essay would look like. Most essay mills explicitly advise students not to submit the original essay. However, there are no legal consequences if a student does. Afterall, customers are free to decide what they want to do with their purchase.
Even though the given legality, purchasing essays and submitting them as one’s own work is highly unethical. It damages academic integrity, degrees and one’s critical thinking and writing skills. If everybody stopped earning their degrees, we would soon enter a world of fraud and skill-less workforce.
The associate dean at Staffordshire University, Thomas Lancaster, who is a British expert on essay cheating told the British newspaper The Guardian in February: “It’s not illegal for sites to offer to write model essays, it’s not illegal for somebody to buy an essay, but of course if they buy an essay, hand it in, and get a degree they don’t deserve and use that degree to get a job, then there is some kind of fraudulent transaction going on there.”
It is difficult for plagiarism software to detect whether an essay was bought of self-written. If an essay mill happens to sell the same essay to multiple students, who then submit the essay, plagiarism software will be able to find the duplicates. Overall, the judgment over the authenticity of a student’s essay remains with teachers and faculty.