Virtual Voices

Poor babies

Education

I think we can all agree that college costs are out of hand when coeds start selling themselves on websites offering to set them up with "college tuition sugar daddies." To be sure, tuition has risen far above the point where the housing bubble collapsed. This handy chart shows the steep rise that began in 1979, spiking in the last decade by as much as 83 percent over general inflation. But that's not really the point.

The point is raised in a long article by Amanda Fairbanks on the Huffington Post: "Seeking Arrangement: College Students Using Sugar Daddies to Pay off Loan Debt." Early in the article Fairbanks describes how a student in New York City named Taylor found an untraditional method of debt relief: "[F]aced with about $15,000 in unpaid tuition and overdue bills, Taylor and her roommate typed 'tuition,' 'debt,' and 'money for school' into Google. A website called SeekingArrangement.com popped up. Intrigued by the promise of what the site called a 'college tuition sugar daddy,' Taylor created a 'sugar baby' profile and eventually connected with [a] man from Greenwich [Conn.]"-who, when she met him last May, appeared at least 20 years older than his advertised age of 42. After their "date" at his apartment, he drove her to Greenwich station and handed her $350 in cash. While admitting it made her feel dirty, Taylor tried to rationalize the transaction: "I needed the money for school. I just did what needed to be done."

The Seeking Arrangement site boasts approximately 800,000 members, of which about a third are students. Says the website founder, "College students are one of the biggest segments of our sugar babies and the numbers are growing all the time." And it's not the only business in this business: The article lists five other similar websites, each with memberships numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

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Women have always done "what needed to be done"; literature and history abound with examples of daughters and wives driven onto the street by desperate need. Jesus famously showed compassion for them; some Christians have tried to provide a way out for them. But the college girls who troll for sugar daddies on websites are presumably well-fed, with an adequate wardrobe and decent housing-not desperate, as much as they may feel like it sometimes. At least, say their defenders, these girls are trying to better themselves. It's all in a good cause-a better life through education. None dare call what they're doing prostitution, or not without a lot of disclaimers. But what else can you call it?

We may not be inclined to pity them, but they are pitiable. They are living in poverty-not so much material. It's more a poverty of the mind and spirit, fed by a junk diet of materialism and fantasy. "Jennifer" is quoted in the article as saying, "I realize I'm not going to have it forever. While I've still got it, I'm going to milk it for all it's worth"-it being youth and beauty-and, who knows, "maybe I'll get swept off my feet. Really, anything could happen." What will probably happen is graduating (or not) with more debt than expected, marrying (or not) some guy with an equal burden, competing for jobs in a diminishing market, and trying to forget those days when she priced herself by the hour. To God, she is priceless; the tragedy is that she doesn't know it.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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