Published January 27 2012
Higher learners seek higher earnersMIAMI – Let’s face it: Getting a college education, even at an in-state public university, isn’t as cheap as it used to be. Students are increasingly being forced to work long hours, or borrow substantially, to pay for their degrees.
There is another financing option out there, however. It’s one that many find morally repugnant, but many students are seeking it, according to one website, including some in the Red River Valley.
It’s called “sugar” dating – instead of footing the bill for those credit hours yourself, you find a quite-wealthy, somewhat-older “Sugar Daddy” or “Sugar Mommy” who is interested in both dating you and giving you a monthly stipend. The arrangement typically involves a mature gentleman (who is sometimes married) and a younger woman.
“It’s all about communicating up front about what you want out of a relationship, and what you expect out of the other person,” said Brandon Wade, founder and CEO of SeekingArrangement.com, a leading sugar dating website.
Others call Wade’s business nothing more than thinly veiled prostitution.
Women on SeekingArrangement.com are often dollar-specific about what they’re seeking: as much as $10,000 a month, or more, to date a well-heeled man.
College students make up about 40 percent of the Sugar Babies on Wade’s site, he said. When he compiled a list of the 20 colleges that were the biggest source of signups in 2011, the top was New York University with 185 new accounts.
Some Midwestern schools made the top 20: Michigan State University was ninth with 81, the University of Wisconsin was 12th with 73, and Indiana University was 17th with 62.
Wade said in a news release the share of profiles on the site for college students is on the rise.
In the Fargo region, 18 of 42 women listed identified as students.
“I don’t really know what I’m looking for, I guess just something different … someone to show a girl from desolate northern Minnesota a good time,” wrote an 18-year-old Fargo resident.
In the Grand Forks area, five of the 10 women on the site identified as students or soon-to-be students.
“In a way, I have three full time jobs. I’m a full time mom, a full time student and a full time nanny,” a 28-year-old from Thief River Falls wrote. “I don’t make enough to live off of and that’s why I’m on here.”
Within the subculture of so-called sugar dating websites – and there are lots of them – SeekingArrangement.com is one of the best known. The site claims more than a million worldwide members and has been profiled by numerous national media outlets, including ABC’s “20/20” earlier this month.
As college students have become a larger share of its customer base, Wade stepped up his courtship of this demographic through targeted advertising and by tracking the number of users who join with college-based “.edu” email addresses.
It is from that email tracking that SeekingArrangement.com compiled its list of the schools with the most 2011 signups.
Wade admits the list doesn’t account for those students who join under their personal email address, such as a Gmail account. But Wade still calls the list a reliable barometer, as many college students in fact use their .edu email accounts because doing so grants them perks such as a free premium membership upgrade, and certification as a “College Sugar Baby” on their profile.
Profiles with that official college certification receive three times as many inquiries, Wade says.
Florida International University students who were asked about their school’s No. 20 ranking on the list of new signups were uniformly dismissive of using that type of dating site, though some female students said income is usually – and appropriately – a factor when they are assessing a dating partner.
“That reflects upon ambition, smarts ... you’re looking for someone who’s going to be stable,” said Leyana Quintero, a 19-year-old international relations major.
Senior Yuleni Pulido, 24, agreed, while insisting that there’s a huge difference between noticing what kind of car your guy drives and joining a “sugar” website.
“In a relationship, there’s still feelings and emotions and integrity involved,” Pulido said. Sugar dating, she said, seems “like a formal transaction.”
Wade rejects the notion that his website functions like a glorified escort service. Escorts, in fact, are specifically barred from joining. A steady stream of prostitutes still tries to become members. Wade says about 10 to 20 are removed daily.
The Grand Forks Herald contributed to this report.