It's no secret the price of college tuition in the U.S. is skyrocketing.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank, student loan balances almost tripled between 2005 and 2015. This year, the total stands at $1.4 trillion.
In Texas, around 56 percent of students accumulate an average debt of $27,000 by graduation.
It's a trend that many students are trying to avoid, in a way that has become somewhat of a sweeping problem.
Sugar babies are young people representing one half of an unconventional whole, in a flashy and controversial dating lifestyle that defies the norm.
Sugar babies like Sara Nagorski promise all the excitement of an intimate relationship, without the drawbacks of long term commitment.
"He's an older guy, he's got business in Latin America and he says, 'here I'll fly you out to Mexico City' and 'you
wanna go?' " Nagorski said.
Older, wealthy benefactors, or sugar daddies, shell out thousands of dollars in return for romantic relationships.
"The way I went into it was, well I've been treated so badly by the people my age, here's somebody older who's treating me well. Why not? What do I have to loose?"
It's a lifestyle that's become so lucrative, it's triggered the creation of online sites, connecting interested sugar babies with ready and willing daddies.
The sugar dating site Seeking Arrangement.com has a worldwide membership of 10 million. Of those members, 1.2 million are college students, with more than 2,000 in Texas.
"A lot of sugar babies do come to Seeking Arrangement looking for help with school, help with tuition, help with rent, help with getting to the next level and hopefully graduating without a pile of debt," Seeking Arrangement spokesperson Brook Urick said.
Six Texas colleges are on the website's list of top 100 "Sugar Baby Universities."
Texas State University in San Marcos ranks 5th, with 746 registered sugar babies. The University of Texas at Austin is 11th, with 714 students.
Like most online dating sites, Seeking Arrangement allows users to create profiles. They are able to add personal information and photos, as well as browse interested parties and message one another to arrange dates.
However, according to Urick, sugar dating sites include a lifestyle expectation that is absent from traditional dating sites.
"The main difference with Seeking Arrangement is what we call a lifestyle expectation. So, similarly to how someone who might be dating offline has the expectation of how much they expect someone to spend on them in a relationship. Or on the converse, how much they expect to spend on someone," Urick said.
These lifestyle expectations can cost sugar daddies an upwards of $2,000 a month.
"Most sugar daddies and sugar mommies are CEO's, business men, traveling, wealthy. There's a reason they can afford to spend a lot on the person they're with. It's because they're looking for a relationship that maybe doesn't have all the confines of a traditional one."
But, Tyler psychologist Dr. Wilson Renfroe said these relationships contain a power struggle that's absent from traditional ones.
"Power and control is the center part of that because if somebody is providing money for school, or whatever, and then there's some sort of a demand or some sort of an agreement that there's a reciprocal relationship that you provide something back for them, whatever that might be, the person with the money has got the control and the power and they can kind of call the shots. So it sets up to be real one sided," Renfroe said.
It's something that he said can be potentially harmful for both parties involved.
"I think in a naïve kind of world you say, okay this is a great transaction. I get this, you get this, everybody is all okay with this and we have this great contractual kind of relationship. But, I just don't see it working that way because if we were machines and not people without emotion then it would probably be okay. But, we have emotion and emotion is going to play into this, especially if there's anything romantic or sexual involved. Then it gets real complicated and yeah it can be real hurtful."
However, Urick said the website isn't for everyone.
"Sugar relationships are not for everyone. We don't twist anyone's arm and force them to make a profile on Seeking Arrangement. People come to our site of their own volition. If they're concerned about their safety, then they shouldn't be online dating because online dating is always a risk," Urick said.
While there is no official data suggesting sugar relationships are harmful, online dating experts recommend safety first in any scenario.
They advise users to always meet in public and tell a friend where they're going.
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