Though not explicitly called "mom cams," real-time cameras at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., (in the computer lab and cafeteria) and at Towson University in Maryland (the central grounds) bring Web viewers almost close enough to see whether Johnny remembered to floss. The websites of the University of Redlands in California and Ohio Wesleyan University give visitors nearly full control over roof-mounted lenses that can pan campus or zoom in on students locking up bikes, or flirting. At the University of Rochester website, visitors home in on three open-air spots at the student union: the "Hi, Mom! Balcony," the "Hi, Mom! Bridge," and the "Hi, Mom! Closeup."
"There's a community aspect – waving to your parents, saying 'hi' to friends, scheduling times to be by the Web cam – that's growing," says Chris Carson, president of CampusTours Inc., a Maine company that builds online tours of colleges.
The trend coincides with a crop of students who are in far more frequent contact with parents than earlier generations. One reason, says Barbara Hofer, a psychologist at Middlebury College in Vermont, is the proliferation of unlimited calling plans, cellphones, e-mail, and text messaging that make a quick check-in easy and cheap. But another reason may be spiraling college costs. "People are monitoring an investment," she says. "They've put so much into this, both in terms of time to prepare kids for school and the money they're paying once they're there."
Ron Stephany, vice president of university relations at the University of Redlands, installed the "Bulldog Cam" over the student center plaza in 2004 for alumni, but later heard that parents were going online to see their kids – perhaps too often.
"We actually refer to some parents now as helicopter parents, because they're always hovering," says Mr. Stephany, whose school launched a seven-week online course this fall to help parents of freshmen "let go." "It's not uncommon to be walking around and [hear] students on their cellphone, and they will literally be saying, 'Hi, Mom, I just got out of my English class. I'm on my way to lunch.' "