Meet superspreader Chegg, which has become the most valuable edtech company in America by connecting college students to test answers on demand.

It’s called “chegging.” College students everywhere know what it means. “If I run out of time or I’m having problems on homework or an online quiz,” says Matt, a 19-year-old sophomore at Arizona State, “I can chegg it.”

He means he can use Chegg Study, the $14.95-a-month service he buys from Chegg, a tech company whose stock price has more than tripled during the pandemic. It takes him seconds to look up answers in Chegg’s database of 46 million textbook and exam problems and turn them in as his own. In other words, to cheat. (Matt asked that his real name be withheld because he knows he’s violating his school’s honor code.)

Chegg is based in Santa Clara, California, but the heart of its operation is in India, where it employs more than 70,000 experts with advanced math, science, technology and engineering degrees. The experts, who work freelance, are online 24/7, supplying step-by-step answers to questions posted by subscribers (sometimes answered in less than 15 minutes). Chegg offers other services students find useful, including tools to create bibliographies, solve math problems and improve writing. But the main revenue driver, and the reason students subscribe, is Chegg Study. 

“If I don’t want to learn the material,” says a University of Florida sophomore majoring in finance, “I use Chegg to get the answers.” 

“I use Chegg to blatantly cheat,” says a senior at the University of Portland.

Forbes interviewed 52 students who use Chegg Study. Aside from the half dozen students Chegg provided for Forbes to talk to, all but 4 admitted they use the site to cheat. They include undergrads and grad students at 19 colleges, including large and small state schools and prestigious private universities like Columbia, Brown, Duke and NYU Abu Dhabi. 

Subscriptions to Chegg have spiked since nearly every college in the world went virtual. In the third quarter, they grew 69% over the previous year, to 3.7 million. Nine-month revenue surged 54% to $440 million through September and is projected to hit $630 million for the year. (As of press time, Chegg hadn’t reported final 2020 numbers.) Its shares, meanwhile, are up 345% since March 18, when the country began to lock down. Chegg is now valued at more than $12 billion.

Chegg CEO Dan Rosensweig has profited handsomely. His holdings in Chegg plus after-tax proceeds from stock sales add up to $300 million. Rosensweig, who declined to speak to Forbes, has said that Chegg Study was “not built” for cheating. He describes it instead as the equivalent of an asynchronous, always-on tutor, ready to help students with detailed answers to problems. In a 2019 interview, he said higher education needs to adjust to the on-demand economy, the way Uber or Amazon have. “I don’t know why you can’t binge-watch your education,” he said. “My view is education is going to have to come to us over the devices we have.”

Two Chegg executives, vice presidents Arnon Avitzur and Erik Manuevo, support Rosensweig’s claims about Chegg’s intent. “It’s there to offer students personalized service to help them get unstuck,” Avitzur says. 

In a written statement, a Chegg president, Nathan Schultz, says: “We are not naive that [cheating] is a problem. And the mass move to remote learning has only increased it. We remain 100% committed to addressing it, and are investing considerable resources to do so. We cannot do it alone and are working with faculty and institutions, and will continue to do more, including educating students.” 

Their investments don’t appear to be paying off. Undergrads in a finance course at Texas A&M last fall used Chegg to cheat on multiple online exams. Timothy Powers, who heads the university’s honor system office, says hundreds of students submitted answers they copied from Chegg more quickly than it would have taken them to read the questions. 

“It’s an arms race,” Powers says. “We’re trying to stop academic misconduct, and students are convincing themselves that all their peers are doing this.” 

Throughout the pandemic, schools have spent millions on remote proctoring, a controversial practice in which colleges pay private companies like Honorlock and Examity to surveil students while they take tests. The proctoring outfits lock students’ Web browsers and watch them through their laptop cameras. Critics say the services invade students’ privacy. Test takers have reportedly urinated at their desks, fearing they will be accused of cheating if their camera catches them getting up to go to the bathroom… Via – Forbes

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