Freshmen surveyed show technological prowess, but little concerning world events

Annual Beloit College survey prompts sampling of MU students' interests and knowledge.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 | 5:18 p.m. CDT; updated 6:24 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 8, 2010

COLUMBIA — Of 20 incoming MU freshmen quizzed by the Columbia Missourian, three-quarters said they’re more likely to text a message than dial a phone, and half or more never use paper maps or send letters through the mail. These students use their iPhones or Google to look up phone numbers and GPS units or MapQuest to navigate unknown roadways, they said.

This unscientific survey conducted outside Hatch and Schurz residence halls during move-in day was prompted by Beloit College’s annual publication of its “Mindset List,” which characterizes the world views of incoming freshmen across the country.

Missourian Quiz

Here are the questions the Missourian asked of 20 incoming MU freshmen.

1. Who did the U.S. fight in WWII?

2. Who was the first man on the moon?

3. What do the letters Y2K mean to you?

4. Who lost to George W. Bush in 2004?

5. Osama bin Laden led what organization?

6. Who was president before Bill Clinton?

7. Who was president before John F. Kennedy?

8. Who is Timothy McVeigh?

9. What is a hanging chad?


1. Axis powers: Germany, Japan and Italy

2. Neil Armstrong

3. The computer scare during the millennium change

4. John Kerry

5. al-Qaida

6. George H. W. Bush

7. Dwight Eisenhower

8. The bomber of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995

9. A dangling scrap on an incompletely-punched paper ballot; these caused allegations of miscounts of Florida ballots after the 2000 presidential election.


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MU students were not entirely in step with Beloit’s findings. One-fourth of the 20 say they write in cursive regularly; Beloit said few entering college know how. But Beloit’s assertion that “e-mail is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail” held up. As a group, the 20 ranked e-mail lower than Facebook — fourth among five options — as a preferred means of communication. U.S. mail was at the bottom.

Despite their technological savvy, the students’ grasp of major news events isn’t quite as sharp. Born in 1992, their knowledge drops off sharply for events of their early childhood and before; one of the 20 could name the president who preceded John F. Kennedy, and three recognized the name Timothy McVeigh. Not one could define the term “hanging chad,” although one recalled that it was “something about voting.”

Freshman Ryan Schuessler of St. Louis offered an explanation for the mindset of his hometown peers.

“They’re pretty much in their own world, rather than looking outside,” Schuessler said. “It was all Facebook, texting, Twitter — very self-enclosed.”

Sydney Stein of Jackson, who scored well on the survey’s history quiz, said she generally avoids watching the news. “It’s boring, confusing, and I don’t understand what’s going on a lot of the time.”

World War II was the most common response to “What was the most significant happening in the 20th century?” Three freshmen were more specific, naming D-Day or the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Other answers included the invention of computers and cell phones, the rise of the Internet, The Great Depression, America defeating communism and fashion change.

Who did the U.S. fight in World War II? “I don’t know – Europe?” said one flustered young woman whose parents were within earshot. Later, another guessed Vietnam.

Ten of the 20 guessed it was Al Gore who lost to George W. Bush in the 2004 election. Most knew the name of the first man on the moon, but several said either Alan Shepard, Buzz Aldrin or Lance Armstrong.  When asked, “Osama Bin Laden led what organization?” the wrong answers included Iraqis and the Taliban.

Alexis Weller of Independence summed up the views of her classmates.

“I feel like we focus more on ourselves than others and events around us.”

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Kate McIntyre September 2, 2010 | 12:00 a.m.

I'm only three years older than these kids and I got 9 questions right (missed the one on Dwight Eisenhower -- I never was good at the order of presidents). So it must be the college education. It would be great to interview the same students at the end of their MU careers.

(Report Comment)
Kyle Denlinger September 12, 2010 | 9:49 p.m.

Sigh. I never understand what these types of surveys are supposed to convey. Are we bemoaning of the death of sacred conventions like snail mail and paper checks? Do they even teach cursive in schools anymore? These things are obsolete--technology has made them so.

What's more, anyone who has ever watched Jay Leno poll passersby on current events knows that it's not just college freshmen who might claim that Lance Armstrong was the first to walk on the moon.

Are we just looking for a reason to make shiny infographics now? Please, give us statistics that mean something.

(Report Comment)

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