HALIFAX – Several Maritime universities have the dubious distinction of being the fastest growing “sugar baby” schools in Canada.
A ranking was released Monday by seekingarrangement.com, a dating website that connects university students, all female, with “sugar daddies”, men who have money who help pay for the student’s tuition.
The ranking lists Dalhousie University as the 11th fastest growing “sugar baby” university. Eighty-two students joined in the last year, bringing the total number of Dalhousie students registered on the website to 140.
The University of New Brunswick ranks 19th on the list, with 49 new students this year, and St. Thomas University sits at 20 with 48 new students joining.
Here is the full list:
Leroy Velasquez, public relations manager for seekingarrangement.com, tells Global News that the website collects numbers based on the university email address of the students signing up.
He said the typical member is between 19 and 26 years old.
The website has 2.7 million members worldwide. Velasquez said more than 425,000 Canadians are registered and out of those, more than 129,000 are university students.
“Rather than getting a minimum wage job and distract themselves from their studies, a lot of these students are engaging in relationships with these sugar daddies,” Velasquez said.
He adds that students generally receive approximately $3,000 a month from benefactors.
“Why graduate with an average debt of $37,000 before you even get a job when you can get a sugar daddy and get $3,000 a month and pay off your debt and graduate debt free?”
Alexis Stevenson is a fourth year computer science student at Dalhousie University. She is not registered as a member on seekingarrangement.com.
She estimates she is $24,000 in debt and still has another year to go.
“I work four jobs. I have my own apartment. I pay for all my tuition through my student loans,” she said.
Stevenson calls the website “sketchy”, saying it might lead to unsavoury situations.
“Going online, meeting a stranger, asking them to pay off probably a really significant debt sets you up for a lot of obligation I’m not sure I would be comfortable with,” she said.
However, while she plans to pay off her debt herself, Stevenson said she can relate the mindset of the women who do sign up.
“Now that I’m four years in, I’m a lot in debt. I can understand why some girls would be thinking ‘Oh my goodness, maybe someone else can do this for me and pay this off’,” she said.
The Dalhousie Student Union said the university’s ranking is not surprising.
“Dalhousie has some of the highest tuition in the country. I think it’s just another example of students doing whatever it takes to pay for their education,” spokesperson Aaron Beale said.
The union has been fighting for lower tuition for several years and Beale said the government and universities need to work together to make post-secondary education more affordable for students.
News of the rankings caught some students at Nova Scotia’s largest university and at St. Thomas University off-guard.
“A lot of people are in student debt. A lot of people need extra funds and things like that. Women are seeking out to find that fund and they’re finding it through that website. It’s an easy way to get cash,” said Dalhousie second year student Brenna O’Leary.
“I was shocked honestly. I guess I knew things like that could happen but I didn’t think that St. Thomas University would be up on the list,” said Gina Gedebs.
Jacqueline Warwick, coordinator of the gender and women’s studies program at Dalhousie University, calls the rankings concerning.
“I worry naturally some of the people involved may be getting themselves in over their heads into a dangerous situation,” she said.
“It sounds like something that’s fraught with possible danger. I don’t like the hierarchical setup of the sugar daddy.”
But Velasquez defends the website, saying it is not prostitution.
“This is a dating website where people actually engage in dating relationships that grow and prosper. If they don’t see eye to eye as far as the type of arrangements they want to engage in, they don’t have to accept these terms,” he said.
Warwick said she understands why some young women might think the set-up is a good way for them to fund their education.
“In our society, young women are bombarded with messages telling them the most valuable thing about themselves is their look and sex appeal. In a way it’s a rational choice to try and capitalize on that to serve one’s own education goals,” she said.
But Warwick urges against rushing to judgment about the women who register on the website.
“I would not want to shame and blame these young women. Who knows the decisions behind making this kind of decision might be. I’m sure it’s very complex.”