This is adapted from a response to a post on the blog of the esteemed Ben Orlin, who is awesome and who you should all read.
The wild card when talking about cheating is that students will often be in classes they don’t want to be in, don’t care about, and will probably never make use of again. But they need a good grade in that class to get into the college they want, or even graduate at all.
Look at the whole thing from that perspective – you’re there against your will, forced to do something you don’t want to for a reason you don’t care about and that probably won’t affect your life one way or the other once you’re finished with it.
We’ve admitted now that a lot of the anti-cheating arguments are poor or only apply in rare situations, but we’re afraid to take the next step and admit that students who cheat at least sometimes have a very good reason, and little incentive NOT to. How on earth can you talk about the “morality” of cheating to a person who has essentially been blackmailed into doing whatever you want them to for an hour each day?
For a larger number of cases than we’d care to admit the only good reason not to cheat is the risk of getting caught.