Oral Roberts University to Track Students' Fitness Through Fitbits

Elizabeth Chuck
This college requires freshmen to wear Fitbits
This college requires freshmen to wear Fitbits

An Oklahoma university is taking a novel approach to fighting the "Freshman 15": Require all incoming students to wear fitness trackers.

Oral Roberts University, a Christian university in Tulsa, announced earlier this month that all first-years must wear Fitbit—watches that track how much activity a person does. Their fitness data will be tracked by the school and will affect students' grades.

While mandatory for all incoming freshman this year, Oral Roberts said it "has opened the program up to all students," and said the campus bookstores have already sold more than 550 of the popular gadgets.

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The university has always included a fitness component in its curriculum, requiring students to "manually log aerobics points in a fitness journal" in past years. The students get graded on their level of aerobic activity.

Now, instead of tediously entering the data by hand, it will be automatically tracked and submitted by the Fitbits, which retail for about $150.

"ORU offers one of the most unique educational approaches in the world by focusing on the Whole Person — mind, body and spirit," ORU President William M. Wilson said in a statement. "The marriage of new technology with our physical fitness requirements is something that sets ORU apart."

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The Fitbit requirement is a first of its kind for colleges and universities, Oral Roberts said.

The Fitbits will track students' activity wherever they are — on campus or anywhere else in the world — and send the data, which includes details on exercise, food, sleep, and body weight, into Oral Roberts' learning management system.

It's unclear how much physical activity the university requires of students. The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

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According to The Tulsa World, the students must walk 10,000 steps each day. University officials told the paper that Fitbits will enable students to get graded based on their weekly exercise rather than relying on the end-of-semester field test, which is typically a 1-1/2-mile run for freshmen.

Mike Mathews, who oversees Oral Roberts' data systems, told The Tulsa World that the university will look for correlations between exercise and academic success.

"No other school is doing what we're doing. No other school is capable of bringing the data into their system," he said.