A Meeting of the Mindsets: Real Students vs. The Beloit Mindset List

Inspired by a 2009 blog post from SUNY Oswego’s Tim Nekritz and the hilarious #fakebeloitmindlist Twitter hashtag initiated by same.

Just in time for back-to-school, the annual Beloit College Mindset List was published on Tuesday, providing quick-and-dirty insights into the minds of today’s college-bound 18-year-olds. For instance, did you know that the Class of 2016 is younger than you? Shocking, I know.

To me this list has always been a weird combination of sure-it’s-true-but-what-the-heck-does-it-have-to-do-with-anything facts (“There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.”) and whose-ass-did-they-pull-that-out-of overgeneralizations (“They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of ‘electronic narcotics.’”) As a fun, informal glimpse into the world of people born in 1994, the list is mostly harmless I suppose. However, if you do a Google News search for Beloit Mindset List, you’ll find more than 600 media references to the list as an arbiter of freshman knowledge and tastes, with everyone from the Christian Science Monitor to eCampus.com getting in on the act. (The infographic from eCampus.com is particularly … infographical. In that it contains both information and graphics.)

This year, the authors of the Mindset List even offered a webinar to help struggling old fogeys “understand the mindset of today’s modern student.” Well as luck would have it, on the same day the list was published, I had another opportunity to understand today’s students: I attended a meet-and-greet reception for our new EcoReps students at the University of Rochester. These are the incoming freshman who work with their fellow classmates on issues of environmental sustainability in the dorms. And I discovered something fascinating: these students are people. We can talk to them. And if you work on a college campus, they are everywhere. I’m telling you, this place is lousy with them.

So what did I learn from my conversation with about 10 actual students? Here are a few insights, provided in a convenient and popular list format:

  1. They all say they hate Facebook, but that they still use it. Primarily for groups. (Hey, look! Something I have in common with the youth of today!)
  2. Most of them admitted to lurking rather than actively participating in their “Class of” Facebook group because occasionally someone will ask a good question. But “it’s always the same people posting all the time,” was an agreed-upon complaint.
  3. Only one of them was on Twitter. She was also on Instagram, and said these two have basically replaced Facebook for her as the way she communicates with her social circle. The students who weren’t on Twitter seemed to agree that the reason they weren’t was because they didn’t really have any idea what they would say on Twitter.
  4. They all agreed that they wished they got more information about their fall courses online earlier. “I wish the syllabus was available already; I just want to get started!” got enthusiastic nods.
What does any of this say about the mindset of a generation? Nothing. I just love the opportunities I get to talk to our students. I have to seek those opportunities out more proactively in my job as a Web developer and editor in a central communications office, but I am always impressed and happy when I do. And you won’t get that from no list.
–lori.

6 comments

  1. Tim Nekritz says:

    Well said! Let clarity reign! Very happy you decided to write this … when people defend the list as harmless and humorous, you figure 600 news outlets and their countless readers consuming it provides some kind of validation this doesn’t deserve. Especially when I see college administrators quoting it, in lieu of doing exactly what you did and what we should all do: Get out and get to know our students!

  2. Ma'ayan says:

    Talking to people >>>>> assumptions. But it takes time and talking. Still. It should be done.

    All the more power to you, Lori.

  3. Aaron says:

    If it says anything about the mindset of the generation (if we were to assume that n=10 is an adequate sampling of their generation), I would say that it says “Incoming freshman don’t *want* to use social media nearly as much as you might think they do, and perhaps you should focus more of your efforts on providing them the information they need to hit the ground running, rather than being their BFF.”

  4. There’s one thing I think we overlook in the discussion about the Beloit Mind Set List, and all the fun we have with its inanity: It’s a PR stunt. Plain and simple. And it has worked for Beloit. It’s become an annual rite, much like the U.S. News & World Report rankings. The Beloit Mind Set List is brilliant media bait and great PR for an institution many of us may otherwise not know about. And every year it works.

    So Beloit has developed a singular brand identity. You can loathe it if you wish. But you can’t deny that it works. Heck, the institution even gets people to blog about their list. Good buzz.

  5. LoriPA says:

    Tim: Thanks, man. You owe me a beer. ;-)

    Ma’ayan: Yeah, that is definitely the hard part for me. It’s weird but working in a central mar/comm office, I actually don’t get very many opportunities to interact with students, other than our own small group of student employees. I think it must be different for people who work in, say, an admissions office or an academic unit or student affairs. But every time I force myself to create or take advantage of these opportunities, I am always happier and I always learn something.

    Aaron: I totally agree, on both points. It’s kinda telling that the things *I* asked *them* about involved their social media use because that’s a topic *I* am interested in since it involves my job. The topic *they* brought up unprompted was *their* desire for earlier access to online course material. Of course, I have no say over whether or when a professor posts a syllabus, but when they hear, “I work on the Web,” that’s what they want to know about. Again, I think part of this disconnect on my part comes from working in a Communications office as opposed to an office that, you know, *does* things. :-) It’s a good reminder though that as higher ed Web folks we should be *serving* students, not just *communicating* with them.

    Andrew: Absolutely! Totally brilliant PR. It’s pretty much the only thing I know about Beliot, but hey — I know about Beloit! And honestly, it doesn’t even really bother me that this list gets so much mass media play every year as a fun, easy, back-to-school chestnut. What I do get annoyed about is when people who work in higher ed take it in any way seriously: start e-mailing it to each other, signing up for webinars, etc. If you’re a faculty member, administrator, or staff member, this list should be an annual chuckle, and nothing more.

  6. Lori,

    Twice I wrote alternate Beloit lists on my blog, because I found the Beloit lists to be irrelevant. (http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2011/08/jills-alternate-to-2015-beloit-college.html and http://hurstassociates.blogspot.com/2010/08/jills-alternate-to-2014-beloit-college.html) The earlier Beloit lists were more meaningful, but now the list tells me nothing. These two men are grasping at straws and not helping us “old folks” relate to the “youngin’s” at all.

    And…yes…I learn so much more about the incoming students by interacting with them, whether its in Hinds Hall, on the shuttle bus, or in the dining hall. And…true…they are human, just like us!

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