ORLANDO, Fla. - With more than 68,000 students enrolled this past fall, the University of Central Florida is the second -largest university in the country by enrollment. UCF undergraduates pay about $17,000 a year for in-state tuition, room and board, fees and books. The price tag increases to $33,000 for out of state students. On its website, the school boasts that 44% of its students graduate with no student debt. That's an accomplishment when the average college graduate owes more than $37,000, according to the website Debt.org.
"I get usually, like, $200 or $500 for each date."
To make sure they don't finish college deeply in debt, some students have turned to older men to help them pay their bills. The website SeekingArrangement.com ranks UCF as one of the fastest growing universities for relationships for "sugar dating." It's defined as a relationship between a "sugar baby" and a "sugar daddy" or "sugar mama." The website says there are more than 1,000 sugar babies at UCF, and Florida State University and the University of Florida aren't far behind. In fact, UCF is considered the second fastest-growing university for sugar babies.
Channel 9 reporter Lauren Seabrook spoke with one sugar baby named Michelle. Concerned about being identified, Michelle agreed to be interviewed over the phone.
"I get usually, like, $200 or $500 for each date," she told Seabrook. "I don't work enough because of school, so I'm not getting paid enough. It helps me and it helps the other person who I have the arrangement with. It's a mutually beneficial relationship, I feel like."
Michelle described the relationship she has with her sugar daddy. She says he is a successful businessman in Orlando who pays her to be by his side while networking with investors.
"It's strictly companionship," she said. "The website is just for finding connections and real relationships. If you do any sexual comments or terms, they'll ban you from the website."
In a statement to WFTV, a representative from SeekingArrangement.com explained its rules, stressing that the website is a platform for consenting adults and is not transactional.
"We do not allow solicitation of any kind, and this includes prostitution and escorting," said Kimberly De La Cruz. "Anyone caught using transactional language will be banned."
"The sugar babies themselves are not considered prostitutes."
Some have asked why this is not considered prostitution. Channel 9 legal analyst Bill Sheaffer explained sex is not what is being exchanged for money in these arrangements.
"You're paying for companionship and social interaction and although sex may be involved, it is not what you are paying a woman for," Sheaffer said. "And the sugar babies themselves are not considered prostitutes because they are being compensated for their time and companionship and not being offered money for sex without time and companionship."
Seabrook reviewed the website and did not find any blatant requests for sex. However, Seeking Arrangement does allow sugar daddies to say they're looking for 'friends with benefits.'
Michelle's sugar daddy is 25 years her senior; she is 23 years old. She told Seabrook she agreed to the relationship because he was good-looking and not creepy.
"We laughed the whole night. It was definitely not uncomfortable or anything," she said. "It's really just dinners in super fancy places I never thought I would actually eat at. But it's really exciting."
She's continuing with what she calls a "business deal" because she says he respects her as a person and gives her advice on work and school.
"It's not like we're giving up our bodies for men," she told Seabrook, "I don't have to do anything that I'm not comfortable with."
"He wanted feet pictures as his pleasure."
Another student at UCF had a different experience as a sugar baby. Tina, who agreed to speak with Seabrook as long as she was not identified, had a sugar daddy who had a foot fetish.
"He would just send, like, an emoji, like the feet emoji. Then I would send him pictures of my feet just crossed or straight or if I got a pedicure or whatever and he would just be, like, 'Go buy yourself something nice.'"
Tina's arrangement started on the social media website Instagram. She told Seabrook the man would send her $50 here and $30 there all through a cash app, just to get her attention.
"I ignored him for a while. Then I opened up my Venmo one day and there was money just all over."
When Tina finally replied to the man she agreed to a plan that did not involve an emotional connection or meeting in person.
"You can show me a little bit of respect."
"He just wanted to be able to text me every day and he wanted feet pictures as his pleasure," she said."
After receiving about $700, Tina said her sugar daddy started to get angry when she did not text him all of the time.
"He was like, 'you know, you can show me a little bit of respect,'" she said.
Tina stopped responding and the money stopped coming in.
Seabrook reached out to the UCF Police Department about potential safety issues. Officers advised that any relationship with a stranger online should be handled with caution, adding that if something seems to good to be true, it probably is and that should be a red flag.
SeekingArrangement.com claims students turning to sugar daddies can make an average of $3,000 a month. But it's not just students looking for the extra cash.
Action News Jax spoke with a woman from Orange Park, Florida, about her arrangement with her sugar daddy. They did not use her last name to protect the identity of her then 8-year-old son.
"There is romance," Kim said, "but it's not about romance. It's about filling each other's need, showing guidance, support, emotional help, and, obviously, financial."
At the time, Kim claimed her suigar daddy gave her a minimum of $3000 a month, but sometimes more. She said she used the money to help support her son.
"It got to the point he was wanting to go do things, or want things, and I couldn't provide," she said.
Women such as Michelle and Tina, worried about bills before they're out of school, agree it's a legitimate way to take care of yourself.
"Do you think this is a good way for people to pay off their debt?" asked Seabrook.
"Yes, I do. If you're willing to do it, and you don't find any harm in it, and you enjoy it, and there's nothing scary to you about it, then you should do it," said Tina.
Seabrook also spoke with a sugar daddy about his experience with sugar dating. He lives in Manhattan, claims to be a successful businessman and says he shows his 'babies' a good time. Hear about his lifestyle Friday ay 5:30 p.m. on Channel 9 Eyewitness News.
To contact Lauren Seabrook about this story, email her at Lauren.Seabrook@wftv.com
© 2019 Cox Media Group.