Illustration by Phil Foster

The annual BELOIT COLLEGE MINDSET LIST reveals what the world looks like through an 18-year-old’s eyes.

Each year on a Monday in late August, another crop of first-year students arrives at Beloit College, a private liberal-arts college of fewer than 1,400 students in Beloit, Wis., for a welcome session. And each year for the last several years, as the clock ticks over to Tuesday at 12:01 a.m., the college’s website is inundated with hundreds, then thousands, of hits. As the tally passes 100,000, the college’s computer network routinely crashes under the strain.

The Age of Ignorance
Think everyone remembers The Rat Pack? Think again. This excerpt from the Mindset List for the Class of 2017 reveals five truths for today’s college freshmen.
1. Dean Martin, Mickey Mantle and Jerry Garcia have always been dead.
2. A tablet is no longer something you take in the morning or write on during the day.
3. They could always get rid of their outdated toys on eBay.
4. Java has never been just a cup of coffee.
5. When their parents held them as newborns, it is hard to say whether it was the baby or Windows 95 that had them more excited.

Is it a prank perpetrated by information-technology students on campus? A hacker trying to sabotage the new school year? No, the cyber deluge is sparked instead by the release of the newest Beloit College Mindset List.

Created in 1998 by Beloit faculty members Ron Nief and Tom McBride, the annual Mindset List reflects the world view of beginning college freshmen. This unscientific yet highly educational and entertaining list captures the cultural, technological and demographic changes that have influenced the outlook of each year’s class of 18-year-olds. To better understand, consider a few items from the Mindset List for the Class of 2017. (See sidebar.) To this year’s freshmen, Dean Martin has always been dead. Having a “chat” has seldom involved talking. And Olympic excitement has always erupted every two years — just in different seasons.

“When we started this in the early days of the Internet age, all too often online we were seeing what we referred to as the ‘Baby Boomer Arrogance List,’ ” says Nief, emeritus director of public affairs at ­Beloit College. “It was summarized by, ‘These kids today aren’t half as smart as we were.’ Tom and I and others on campus were frustrated by this. We recognized it wasn’t what these kids didn’t know but what they hadn’t experienced.”

Nief and McBride intended for the Mindset List to be a reminder to fellow Beloit faculty members to check for passé references in their lectures and curriculum. They didn’t realize their pet project would develop a life and following beyond the Beloit campus. Indeed, the Mindset List struck a chord around the world. Over 15 years, media outlets from Bogota, Colombia, to Cape Town, South Africa, have called for interviews. High schools and universities have adapted the list for everything from a family-history project to topics for college-entrance essays. Dozens of organizations, including NASA and the NCAA, have tapped Nief and McBride for presentations. They all want to know: How does the younger generation think?

“When you talk about young people, you’re talking about social change,” says McBride, a professor of English and humanities. “Change is something people are very ambiguous about. So when the list comes out, it is a great conversation starter about the larger issue of change.”