When the college Class of 2017 arrives on campuses this fall, these digital natives will already be well-connected to each other. They are more likely to have borrowed money for college than their Boomer parents and, while their parents foresee four years of school, the students are pretty sure it will be longer than that. Members of this year's first-year class, most of them born in 1995, will search for the academic majors reported to lead to good-paying jobs, and most of them will take a few courses taught at a distant university by a professor they will never meet.
The use of smart phones in class may indicate they are reading the assignment they should have read last night, or they may be recording every minute of their college experience or they may be texting the person next to them. If they are admirers of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, they may wonder whether a college degree is all it's cracked up to be, even as their dreams are tempered by the reality that tech geniuses come along about as often as Halley's Comet, which they will not glimpse until they reach what we now consider "retirement age."
Though they have never had chicken pox, they are glad to have access to health insurance for a few more years. They will study hard, learn much, teach their professors quite a lot and realize eventually that they will soon be in power. After all, by the time they hit their 30s, four out of 10 voters will be of their generation. Whatever their employers may think of them, politicians will be paying close attention.
Each August since 1998, Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. Prepared by Beloit's former public affairs director Ron Nief and Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride, the list originally was created to make faculty aware of dated references they might use that their students wouldn't understand.
The list quickly became an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation. Mindset List websites at themindsetlist.com and beloit.edu, as well as the Mediasite webcast and their Facebook page, receive more than a million visits annually.
The Mindset List for the Class of 2017 (abridged)
For this generation of entering college students, born in 1995, Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle and Jerry Garcia have always been dead.
• Eminem and LL Cool J could show up at parents' weekend.
• They are the sharing generation, having shown tendencies to share everything, including possessions, no matter how personal.
• GM means food that is genetically modified.
• As they started to crawl, so did the news across the bottom of the television screen.
• "Dude" has never had a negative tone.
• Having a chat has seldom involved talking.
• Gaga has never been baby talk.
• They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.
• They have known only two presidents.
• Their TV screens keep getting smaller as their parents' screens grow ever larger.
• PayPal has replaced a pen pal as a best friend on line.
• Rites of passage have more to do with having their own cell phone and Skype accounts than with getting a driver's license and car.
• A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning.
• Threatening to shut down the federal government during budget negotiations has always been an anticipated tactic.
• The Pentagon and Congress have always been shocked, shocked, by reports of sexual harassment and assault in the military.
• Spray paint has never been legally sold in Chicago.
• Captain Janeway has always taken the USS Voyager where no woman or man has ever gone before.
• Courts have always been ordering computer network wiretaps.
• Jurassic Park has always had rides and snack bars, not free-range triceratops and velociraptors.
• Thanks to Megan's Law and Amber Alerts, parents have always had community support in keeping children safe.
• With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace, just an address.
• Olympic fever has always erupted every two years.
• In their first 18 years, they have watched the rise and fall of Tiger Woods and Alex Rodriquez.
• Yahoo has always been looking over its shoulder for the rise of "Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle."
• Members of Congress have always been burdened by the requirement that they comply with the anti-discrimination and safety laws they passed for everybody else to follow.
• The United States has always imposed economic sanctions against Iran.
• The Celestine Prophecy has always been bringing forth a new age of spiritual insights.
• Smokers in California have always been searching for their special areas, which have been harder to find each year.
• They have never attended a concert in a smoke-filled arena.
• There has never been a national maximum speed on U.S. highways.
• Don Shula has always been a fine steak house.
• Their favorite feature films have always been largely, if not totally, computer generated.
• They have never really needed to go to their friend's house so they could study together.
• Kevin Bacon has always maintained six degrees of separation in the cinematic universe.
• They may have been introduced to video games with a new Sony PlayStation left in their cribs by their moms.
• A Wiki has always been a cooperative web application rather than a shuttle bus in Hawaii.
• They have always been able to plug into USB ports.
• Olestra has always had consumers worried about side effects.
• Washington, D.C., tour buses have never been able to drive in front of the White House.
• Being selected by Oprah's Book Club has always read "success."
• Their parents' car CD player is soooooo ancient and embarrassing.
• New York's Times Square has always had a splash of the Magic Kingdom in it.
• Bill Maher has always been politically incorrect.
• They have always known that there are "five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes" in a year.
That's it for this year's edition. Next year, keep an eye out for the Mindset List for the Class of 2018.