In 2017, over 20 million Americans started their first year of college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Beloit College released its 20th annual Mindset List to describe what the world looks like to these incoming students. The list, as usual, contains a few gasp-inducing reminders of how much time has passed since we went to college.
This year, for example, we painfully learned that for the class of 2021, Justin Timberlake has always been a solo act.
But the list also offers deep insights into students' attitudes toward education, information, and technology. Here are four of the items from the 2017 Mindset List, as well as their implications for what and how our students are learning.
"In college, they will often think of themselves as consumers, who've borrowed a lot of money to be there."
According to The College Board's annual survey, the average cost of tuition and room and board for 2016's in-state public students was $20,090. For private colleges, it was $45,370. When college is that expensive, it's no wonder that students want beautiful dorms, gourmet food, and other amenities.
This consumer mindset, Malcolm Gladwell argues in an episode of Revisionist History, places emphasis on the wrong aspects of education. Gladwell targets dining halls, and suggests that when schools spend their dollars on amenities designed to woo students, it comes at the expense of admitting and supporting more low-income students. The overall result, Gladwell argues, means that some of our brightest and talented citizens never realize their potential.
"Once on campus, they will find that college syllabi, replete with policies about disability, non-discrimination, and learning goals, might be longer than some of their reading assignments."
What students may not know is that the people writing these sprawling documents found out they were teaching the course just weeks or days before they wrote them. And those adjunct faculty members tend not to be well-compensated for their work.
In 2015, 31 percent of part-time faculty members lived at or below the poverty line. When college professors – people who spend as much as a decade earning graduate degrees – are forced to drive from campus to campus in order to string together enough courses to support themselves, everyone suffers. That's, in part, why university teachers are unionizing in greater numbers than ever.
"Whatever the subject, there's always been a blog for it."
Blogger, the first platform that allowed anyone to share their thoughts with the world without any coding knowledge, launched in 1999. Today there are a dizzying number of blogs, with an estimated 4.4 million devoted to parenting alone.
Those blogs have drastically changed the information landscape. The revelation that bloggers in Macedonia had an outsized impact on the 2016 U.S. presidential election demonstrates how powerful blogs can be.
Blogging culture also shows how highly personalized our news sources are becoming. It's increasingly possible for even avid news readers to avoid reading any dissenting opinion, thanks to aggregators that present content we're most likely to want to read.
"Wikipedia has steadily gained acceptance by their teachers."
A surprising hero has emerged in the wake of the changing information landscape. Because Wikipedia has always been freely and collaboratively authored, the site has plenty of experience flagging and editing biased and false information.
Through the Wiki Education Foundation, Wikipedia is working with professors to assign Wikipedia articles in their classrooms, not to read, but to write. Through creating or editing Wikipedia articles, students are encouraged to research and report on their chosen subjects for a real-world audience of millions. The process gives students' a stronger sense of how knowledge gets created.