Some see it as a savior for college kids struggling to pay tuition. Others arch an eyebrow and wonder if it’s a front for high-end prostitution.
Whatever the perspective, more South Florida students are turning to a service that pairs them up with “sugar daddies” to pay the college bills. That’s why four universities in the state are on the list of fastest-growing “sugar baby” memberships on the website SeekingArrangement.com.
“Miami is an expensive, expensive place to live,” said a 20-year-old hospitality student at Florida International University who says she needed money to pay for tuition and car repairs. Tiffany asked that her last name be kept private because her family doesn’t know about her money source: a Brickell benefactor who coughs up $1,000 a month for what she calls “dinner dates” at his apartment.
“He has a couple apartments. ... We’ll have dinner, wine, it leads to the bedroom. I collect my money, and then I leave.”
Students like Tiffany are behind the arrangement’s growing popularity in Florida.
FIU, the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida State University all made the Top 20 list of fastest-growing “sugar baby” memberships for SeekingArrangement.com, which has more than two million users worldwide.
UCF has the fastest-growing membership of all Florida schools, coming in at No. 4 on the SeekingArrangement.com list, with 291 students using the site, 221 joining in the last year.
The University of South Florida ranked No. 5 on the list, with 212 new users in 2012, followed by No. 7 FIU and No. 14 FSU with 187 and 111 new users this year, respectively. FSU is new to the Top 20 list.
Tiffany says she joined to help defray school costs, but she has also used the income to buy handbags and Chanel sunglasses.
Since joining in the past year, she has met with three “sugar daddies.” She has seen her current sugar daddy, who is 48, for the past two months.
Despite her own arrangement, a sexual relationship is not a requirement, she said.
Tiffany earns an “allowance” of $1,000 per month from her sugar daddy — a price she set herself. In addition to an allowance, she occasionally asks her sugar daddy for help in paying for other expenses, like a recent car repair she needed.
Many schools in SeekingArrangement’s Top 20 are in the South, which organizers attribute to the economy in the region.
“I can see a lot of these families are not able to contribute to their children’s education like they used to,” said Jennifer Gwynn, the director of public relations for SeekingArrangement.com. “I think it’s a hard time for families, and their kids are in college and have to fend for themselves.”
Last year, about 40 percent of the site’s membership was made up of college students. In 2012, it rose to 44 percent.
If college students register with a “.edu” email address, they are automatically given “premium” status on their profiles, which gives them privileges users typically have to pay to use such as reaching out to a prospective sugar daddy.
The service has been criticized for being a possible venue for prostitution.
“When a young woman is in desperate need of money and a wealthy man comes along and uses that vulnerability to get sex, that’s the definition of exploitation,” wrote MIT newspaper The Tech about SeekingArrangement. The site’s creator Brandon Wade is an MIT alum.
Gwynn, the spokeswoman, says the site takes active measures to prevent prostitution from happening, including screening every user’s profile.
“We are very, very strict about escorts,” she said. “If language on someone’s profile is talking about selling their body, they’re kicked off immediately. That’s not what our site is really about.”
Gordon D. Chavis, associate vice president for undergraduate admissions at UCF, said in an email that he and other administrators aren’t aware of students using the site and said the disclosure is “a complete surprise.”
In a news release, CEO Wade said “the growth of southern female co-eds seeking the Sugar Lifestyle is a move in the right direction to bring back Southern charm.”
When asked what he meant by that, Gwynn said she believes being involved with a “sugar daddy” is a way that “people are cultivating these girls to become more successful later in life.”
“You have these southern gentlemen helping [sugar babies] find their way in life, as well as financially.”