Entering College Students

CollegeYes, it’s that time of year again. School’s about to start and the folks at Beloit University are determined to get their annual 15 minutes of fame while demonstrating that we’re getting really, really old.

Students entering college this fall have lived their whole lives in a digital world — where GPS has always been available, phones have always had caller ID and tax returns could always be filed online. The incoming freshmen, born mostly in 1990, also grew up knowing only Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.”

Those are some of the 60 cultural landmarks on the Beloit College Mindset List, an annual compilation that offers a glimpse of the world as seen through the eyes of each incoming class. This year’s list is being released Tuesday by the private school of 1,300 near the Wisconsin-Illinois state line.

The school started producing the list in 1998 to remind professors that references familiar to them might draw blank stares from their students. “Watergate used to be a common reference,” said Ron Nief, the school’s director of public affairs, who assembles the list. “But a few years ago I asked some students if they knew what Watergate was and they said that was where Monica Lewinsky lived.”

The Jay Leno one is getting dated; my chancellor read that one to us in an infamous convocation address at least half a dozen years ago. Indeed, many if not most of the things on the list (karaoke, Carmen Sandiego, recycled drink bottles, shampoo/conditioner combos, hospice) are in the obvious category in that they seem ancient history even to me.

The full list has 60 entries. The only ones I find somewhat amusing and/or surprising:

9. Electronic filing of tax returns has always been an option.
19. Films have never been X rated, only NC-17.
20. The Warsaw Pact is as hazy for them as the League of Nations was for their parents.
22. Clarence Thomas has always sat on the Supreme Court.
23. Schools have always been concerned about multiculturalism.
28. IBM has never made typewriters.
30. McDonald’s and Burger King have always used vegetable oil for cooking french fries.
44. Caller ID has always been available on phones.
47. They never heard an attendant ask “Want me to check under the hood?”
56. Michael Milken has always been a philanthropist promoting prostate cancer research.

Either I’m getting too old to enjoy these lists or the professors making them have grown too old to be particularly imaginative. Not that those are mutually exclusive alternatives.

Those of the variety of #20 have always been the ones that I’ve found most intriguing.  Things like:

  • Desert Storm is as far back in time now as the war in Vietnam was then.
  • “Happy Days,” the nostalgic show about the mid-1950s, is older now than the 50s were then.

Feel free to supply your own examples in the comments below.

FILED UNDER: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. The Republican party and the Democratic party have always looked pretty much equally blind, ignorant, and crazy.

  2. William d'Inger says:

    The first Star Trek TV episode is as old to today’s college entrants as the end of WWI (World War ONE) was to my generation.

  3. John Burgess says:

    William d’Inger: That one is very scary.

  4. fester says:

    Gas has never been cheap for their driving lives…

    MTV is all about (bad) reality shows….

    And on a side note, with the students back and 30,000 of them packed into 1.5 square miles during the day and drinking hours, a bunch of good restaurants are now off limits again 🙁

  5. Fence says:

    The dividing lines are easy. You are a Millennial rather than Gen X if you got your first email address before your drivers license. You are a boomer and not Gen X if you think the greatest movie of all time is something other than Star Wars.

  6. Brian J says:

    I think these lists will become more difficult in the coming years because pop culture has flattened. We don’t have that big of a change between decades as we did in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I mean, come on, what has changed significantly since 1996, aside from maybe the sound of a dial-up modem falling silent?

  7. Fence says:

    come on, what has changed significantly since 1996, aside from maybe the sound of a dial-up modem falling silent?

    Are you kidding?

    Pervasive cell phones
    $3+ gas
    Chicken pox vaccine
    Google searches
    Global warming
    Record stores gone
    Reality shows
    E-mail at work
    West Virginia’s political alignment
    AIDS cocktail
    DVD players built into cars

  8. Fence says:

    I just looked at the actual Beloit list and it looks like the people who came up with it don’t know the difference between 1996 and 2008 either . . .