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Taking Attendance: Class120 App Alerts Parents When Students Skip Class

The developer of Class120 says the idea is to boost class attendance, which in turn leads to higher graduation rates.

Michael Van Casteren, a sophomore at Lynn University, isn't likely to cut many classes. That's because if he does, his parents will find out — right away. Casteren has agreed to install an app on his phone that will ping his parents by text or email if he isn’t in class when he is scheduled to be.

"Just more motivation to go to class,” Van Casteren said of the Class120 app. "You know that your parents are watching."

Van Casteren is among the students at Lynn, a private university in Boca Raton, Florida, who have consented to try the app developed by Core Principle of Indianapolis.

"I definitely feel like it's a good thing, especially for class attendance," Van Casteren told NBC Nightly News. "Showing up to class is half the part — and then besides that, going from there, participating in class. You can't participate in class if you don't show up."

"The single best thing to improve students' success in college is simple: Go to class."

That’s the idea behind Class120 — to boost class attendance.

Jeff Whorley, founder and CEO at Core Principle, said research has consistently shown that going to class correlates with grades better than anything else. And better grades mean a much better chance of graduating.

"The single best thing to improve students' success in college is simple: Go to class," Whorley told NBC Nightly News.

Class120 works with the help of GPS or WiFi. The campus is mapped out and the student enters his or her class calendar information. If the student doesn’t show up at the location where the class is being held, a near-real-time message is sent to the parent, something along the lines of "Hi Joseph Montgomery, Class120 was unable to detect Amy Montgomery at the following class today: Biology101." School administrators can also be notified.

Image: Michael Van Castren, a student at Lynn University
Michael Van Casteren, a student at Lynn University, has agreed to use Class120, an app that can notify his parents if he misses class.NBC News

Whorley projects that by next fall, Class120 will have about 5,000 users across the country. Lynn University is aiming to be the first school to implement the app-based attendance monitoring program campus-wide.

As for concerns about Big Brother and privacy overreach, Whorley notes student participation in Class120 is voluntary.

"This is only monitoring where you are at a very small percent of the average 19-year-old college student's time. It's not half their time or 25 percent of their time. Of their total year, it's a little over 4 percent of their time that they're in class," Whorley said. "So it's a very small amount of time. But it's a critical amount of time."

"It doesn't provide the motivation or the grit or drive to actually get out of bed, get dressed, and get to an 8 o'clock class..."

Not everyone’s convinced an app like Class120 is the appropriate way for parents to keep track of their college-bound children.

Daniel Griffin, a clinical psychologist primarily in private practice, said technology should be used as a tool, like an alarm clock that gets us up on time, but not as a solution.

"It doesn't provide the motivation or the grit or drive to actually get out of bed, get dressed, and get to an 8 o'clock class, say, on ... a cold January day."

Moreover, Griffin said, the child’s sense of responsibility should be developed earlier, like in high school. He said the app seems to put all the burden on the parents — who are often forking over huge sums to pay for their children’s college education — to make sure their kids get to class.

"You really want the ownership for responsibility to start to take place and change before their first semester at college," Griffin said. "So I think it does send a wrong message that you can't be trusted and that we're going to keep an eye on you."

Van Casteren, for one, doesn’t mind that his parents can keep a virtual eye on him while at school.

"My parents pay for my education. They worked hard their entire lives to make sure that I can get a college education. It's their right to make sure I'm using their money in the right way," he said.