This month, almost 2 million first-year students will head off to college campuses around the country. Most of them will be about 18 years old, born in 1990 when headlines sounded oddly familiar to those of today: Rising fuel costs were causing airlines to cut staff and flight schedules; Big Three car companies were facing declining sales and profits; and a president named Bush was increasing the number of troops in the Middle East in the hopes of securing peace. However, the mindset of this new generation of college students is quite different from that of the faculty about to prepare them to become the leaders of tomorrow.
Each August for the past 11 years, Beloit College in Beloit, Wis., has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Public Affairs Director Ron Nief. The List is shared with faculty and with thousands who request it each year as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation.
The class of 2012 has grown up in an era where computers and rapid communication are the norm, and colleges no longer trumpet the fact that residence halls are “wired” and equipped with the latest hardware. These students will hardly recognize the availability of telephones in their rooms since they have seldom utilized landlines during their adolescence. They will continue to live on their cell phones and communicate via texting. Roommates, few of whom have ever shared a bedroom, have already checked out each other on Facebook where they have shared their most personal thoughts with the whole world.
It is a multicultural, politically correct and “green” generation that has hardly noticed the threats to their privacy and has never feared the Russians and the Warsaw Pact.
Students entering college for the first time this fall were generally born in 1990.
For these students, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, Ryan White, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddy Krueger have always been dead.
- Harry Potter could be a classmate, playing on their Quidditch team.
- Since they were in diapers, karaoke machines have been annoying people at parties.
- They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego.
- GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.
- Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.
- Shampoo and conditioner have always been available in the same bottle.
- Gas stations have never fixed flats, but most serve cappuccino.
- Their parents may have dropped them in shock when they heard George Bush announce “tax revenue increases.”
- Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
- Girls in head scarves have always been part of the school fashion scene.
- All have had a relative–or known about a friend’s relative–who died comfortably at home with Hospice.
- As a precursor to “whatever,” they have recognized that some people “just don’t get it.”
- Universal Studios has always offered an alternative to Mickey in Orlando.
- Grandma has always had wheels on her walker.
- Martha Stewart Living has always been setting the style.
- Haagen-Dazs ice cream has always come in quarts.
- Club Med resorts have always been places to take the whole family.
- WWW has never stood for World Wide Wrestling.
- Films have never been X rated, only NC-17.
- The Warsaw Pact is as hazy for them as the League of Nations was for their parents.
- Students have always been “Rocking the Vote.”
- Clarence Thomas has always sat on the Supreme Court.
- Schools have always been concerned about multiculturalism.
- We have always known that “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
- There have always been gay rabbis.
- Wayne Newton has never had a mustache.
- College grads have always been able to Teach for America.
- IBM has never made typewriters.
- Roseanne Barr has never been invited to sing the National Anthem again.
- McDonald’s and Burger King have always used vegetable oil for cooking french fries.
- They have never been able to color a tree using a raw umber Crayola.
- There has always been Pearl Jam.
- The Tonight Show has always been hosted by Jay Leno and started at 11:35 EST.
- Pee-Wee has never been in his playhouse during the day.
- They never tasted Benefit Cereal with psyllium.
- They may have been given a Nintendo Game Boy to play with in the crib.
- Authorities have always been building a wall along the Mexican border.
- Lenin’s name has never been on a major city in Russia.
- Employers have always been able to do credit checks on employees.
- Balsamic vinegar has always been available in the U.S.
- Macaulay Culkin has always been Home Alone.
- Their parents may have watched The American Gladiators on TV the day they were born.
- Personal privacy has always been threatened.
- Caller ID has always been available on phones.
- Living wills have always been asked for at hospital check-ins.
- The Green Bay Packers (almost) always had the same starting quarterback.
- They never heard an attendant ask “Want me to check under the hood?”
- Iced tea has always come in cans and bottles.
- Soft drink refills have always been free.
- They have never known life without Seinfeld references from a show about “nothing.”
- Windows 3.0 operating system made IBM PCs user-friendly the year they were born.
- Muscovites have always been able to buy Big Macs.
- The Royal New Zealand Navy has never been permitted a daily ration of rum.
- The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.
- 98.6 F or otherwise has always been confirmed in the ear.
- Michael Milken has always been a philanthropist promoting prostate cancer research.
- Off-shore oil drilling in the United States has always been prohibited.
- Radio stations have never been required to present both sides of public issues.
- There have always been charter schools.
- Students always had Goosebumps.