I am a researcher. That is why I am pursuing a PhD, that is why I obtained a Master's, and that (at some level) is what I want my career to be when I am finished with grad school (where I tutor on the side).
Research is a business of trust. If I publish, I am asserting that this work represents the truth as far as I can carefully deduce. Others who may use my work rely on that assertion; why would you use, say, a heat transfer model prepared by a kook or a liar? Peer review is meant to guard the gates of academic literature from error, which is a tried and true, if not foolproof, method.
But what about undergraduates? They are not researchers. They are not publishing. They are, by and large, turning the crank on basic problems. So what if they share work, or hire an unscrupulous tutor? It's a victimless crime, right?
Let's pause and think out that line of thought. If I am a recruiter at General Electric, and a resume comes across my desk with a fabulous GPA from a school where cheating is rampant (or even tolerated), I say "Pass". Because of the risk of hiring a cheat, I may toss the resume of a star who couldn't afford a better school. That star then has to obtain a higher degree if she wants to clear her name. Victimless? I think not.
Cheating in undergraduate students inflates their credentials. Inflation always means higher costs across the board. That kid hiring a rotten tutor to do his homework is degrading the degree of everyone in his class and his school, and raising the cost of a "credentialed" education, pushing it to the Master's level (like in a lot of engineering) or pushing it to a stricter school (as an Arizona State alumnus, I feel this acutely).
Pretty plainly, this post/rant was prompted by a recent student request. I sent that person a remonstrative note and a copy of our school's academic integrity policy, but will every tutor so approached?
Dear reader, has this been a problem for you? How have you dealt with it? If you are a student reading this, don't be the kind of person who academically pollutes! Do your own work and then you will have earned your degree fair and square.