Inside the mind of a college freshman

At its height in the 1960s, Pan Am was America's unofficial flag carrier to the rest of the world. The Beatles flew Pan Am on their first trip to the United States. At left: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison arrive at New York's Kennedy Airport on Feb. 7, 1964.
AP Photo

(MoneyWatch) Just how different are the life experiences of the latest crop of college freshmen versus their professors and, for that matter, their parents?

Every year the Beloit College Mindset List, which was released today, attempts to quantify the chasm. This year's list notes, for instance, that in the lives of college freshmen, a woman has always run the U.S. State Department while these teenagers have never seen an actual airline ticket.

A writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education complained yesterday that the annual Mindset List, which attracts global attention, has become increasingly irrelevant. Beloit College, a wonderful liberal arts college in Wisconsin where my son is a junior, first trotted out the list in 1998.

The Mindset List tends to include dead celebrities or past events that teenagers aren't familiar with. And why should they be? Kurt Cobain and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, for instance, show up on the latest line-up.

An alternative look at the generation divide

The Chronicle writer suggested yesterday that a more interesting pursuit would be to contrast the experiences of different generations to the same cultural phenomenon. This list has grown as Chronicle readers have made their own suggestions.

Here's an example from The Chronicle about what the word Tumblr means for three generations:

Class of 2016: My online scrapbook.
Class of 1989: What the dryer does with my clothes.
Class of 1962: Gymnast.

Here's another example using The Beatles:

Class of 2016: Music I hear in car commercials
Class of 1989: Possibly I owe my conception to these guys.
Class of 1962: Inescapable nostalgia upon hearing "Hey Jude."

I find The Chronicle suggestions far more interesting than the Beloit list, but the college list is still entertaining. Here are some of the entries from the new Beloit list:

A significant percentage of freshman will enter college already dispaying some hearing loss.

There have always been blue M&Ms but no tan ones.

They watch television everywhere but on a television.

Before buying a textbook, they will check to see if they can rent it or buy the e-book.

Los Angeles has never had a pro football team.

Star Wars was always a film, not a defense strategy.

Here is where you can find the entire Beloit Mindset list and The Chronicle suggestions.