Ethical Decision-Making in College: Choosing Between Right, Wrong, and the Space in Between


It is important to understand how students’ changing belief structures influence their values and behaviors, including their ethical beliefs and decision-making patterns. As such, this study will address the following research questions: 1) what are students’ ethical beliefs and their perceptions of students’ ethical behaviors; and 2) how do students’ personal values and perceptions of behaviors differ? Using data from the 2006 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey, survey items about ethical decisions are grouped according to their association with the following themes: academic integrity and honesty, social activities, and behaviors influenced by perceptions of convenience. When analyzing student responses to the UCLA wildcard module within UCUES with these thematic constructs, it is possible to identify patterns of personal ethical belief, perceptions of ethics among peers, and differences between these two classes of variables. Our research indicates that students’ perceptions of their peers’ beliefs and behaviors are the best predictors of the respondents’ own ethical behavior. Within academia, particularly in subject areas that engender greater competition such as science and engineering, it is important that institutions promote an explicit code of conduct. If students are taking cues from their peers as to the what beliefs and behaviors are appropriate, a strong message from the institution, the faculty, and staff can intervene in this process in order to promote ethical decision making skills and practices.

Fanny P.F. Yeung
Jennifer R. Keup
Publication date: 
March 1, 2009
Publication type: 
Research and Occasional Papers Series (ROPS)
Ethical Decision-Making in College: Choosing Between Right, Wrong, and the Space in Between by Fanny P.F. Yeung and Jennifer R. Keup. CSHE.2.2009 (March 2009)