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Outsourcing Homework? It Was Bound to Happen.

Everybody outsources to an incredibly large degree—car maintenance, yard work, cooking, cleaning, milking cows, mail delivery. The world would not function without outsourcing.

But I was surprised to see how far the concept of outsourcing can go. I was checking the news a few days ago, and saw an interesting video segment about college students outsourcing homework. (See the CNN video here)

The ethical implications of this story are crystal clear. It is cheating, and plain and simple, it is wrong. But it does raise some interesting thoughts, purely from a business perspective.

Why outsource homework? Students either lack the core competency to do the job themselves, or choose to spend their time on other things—different priorities. The reasons are surprisingly similar to those of a company.

And the similarities continue even after the student makes the decision. Students outsourcing homework face the same challenges companies do.

Selecting a provider can be daunting—the market is flooded, and initial contact is often through the internet where perceptions can be misleading. In the CNN story, one homework company went so far as to list a random address in the US for its company’s headquarters. Turns out it was the residential address of a hapless individual who got to sort mail from around the world as a result. Choosing the wrong provider can undermine even the best of plans.

Quality control was also a problem in the story. While some papers must meet the educational standard or the industry would collapse, the one showcased by CNN did not. It received a failing grade. Companies also have to manage the quality of the products they send overseas, or they will get the same failing grade from their customers.

Losing expertise and intellectual property is another pitfall. When a company stops making a product, and sends that task away, they can lose the ability to make those goods themselves. A student is giving away his own intellectual future. While outsourcing homework might seem like a good idea for a mid-term paper, it might not seem so bright when the student is sitting, unprepared, in a final exam. Or in a job interview.

I’d be interested in doing a little exercise with you. What is the next unusual thing that is going to be outsourced? I’ve seen ads for men to outsource anniversary gift buying so they won’t forget. We’d have a hard time outsourcing exercise, though it would be nice. We outsource child care.

So what’s next? 


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