TODAY | August 03, 2011
>>> we're back now at 8:10. the con tro shers shul ways that college students are paying that their college . tamron hall has the story.
>> there is a new addition to the list, a sugar gad difficult. we're not talking about kabd difficult.
>> reporter: college , a time for independence, learning, and bills. big bills. and as costs for a college education goes up, the ways to pay for it are apparently taking a turn. for some cash-strapped college women that may include finding a sugar daddy . she specifically going online looking for wealthy, older men looking to find compensation in exchange for what these women call come pan johnship. just google tuition and pictures and offers appear.
>> i guess technically i could call myself a sugar baby . a paspade is a spade, isn't it?
>> reporter: we'll call her jennifer to protect her identity. she graduated from sheryl lawrence outside new york city . when she made the move to the city jennifer says she had a degree and tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debts.
>> a girlfriend of mine a while ago told me that she had gone on a site and found someone who was helping her pay her college tuition , so i figured if i'm going to date an older guy, why not date one who is generous.
>> reporter: jennifer says she has currently two active daddies and can make up wards of $5,000 in one weekend. even though she says she is having sex with these men she does not consider herself a prostitute.
>> if i was a prostitute i would be meeting people that i would see for an hour for a very specific act for a very specific amount of money.
>> reporter: it is not illegal to advertise for a sugar daddy , and even legal experts say a prostitution case would be very hard to prove.
>> the only place that would be illegal is if the money is exchanged for sex. so if there is talk of sex in exchange for money, how much is this going to cost me, how much is this sexual act going to cost me.
>> reporter: while it's impossible to know exactly how many sugar babies there are out there, for its part one of the leading websites seekingarrangement.com, claims to have over 800,000 members. 35% of whom are college students. psychologists warn that the sugar daddy may be paying the price tag but the sugar baby may pay the emotional price down the road.
>> it can affect their self-esteem. they are young adults still developing. it can also lead to a lifestyle where it's hard to get out.
>> reporter: but for now, jennifer has no plans to get out, and is soon hoping to be debt free.
>> i'll be able to enjoy my youth instead of waste it slaving away trying to save every penny to pay off a loan.
>> nbc news spoke to brandon wade, the founder of seekingarrangement.com. he said the only difference between his websites and other dating websites is on his they focus on matching people who wealthy and successful to people who are attractive and beautiful. as for any money that changes hands he says it's up to the people that use the site.
>> tamron hall , thank you. the huffington post recently reported about this issue. arianna huffington is editor and chief of the aol huffington post media group and dr. gayle shultz is a contributor. what is the level of the financial desperation that is causing these college women and to a smaller degree men to make this decision?
>> we don't promote it because it puts flesh and blood on the statistics that we hear every day how kids graduate from college and can't get jobs. 85% of them go back to live with their parents because they can't make ends meet. and they graduate with unprecedented loans. there's now $1 trillion in college loans that college kids owe. so just think of it. this is the american dream , right? you play by the rules. you work hard. you graduate from college . but we have an economy which does not make it possible for them to get a good job and pay their debts. so this is really an act of desperation.
>> hundreds of thousands of them. it's not just a small problem with a few thousand women who look for sugar daddies who sell themselves, who basically take a step that's ultimately going to affect their whole life.
>> you say hundreds of thousands. that's the evidence?
>> just on this one website seeking arrangement, there are 245,000 women registered who have a college , dot edu, e-mail address.
>> the women and men who are students, to not be negatively effected by this kind of relationship?
>> i think it's likely that they will. i mean, they're using defenses to try to say this is okay or i am desperate or it's what i have to do. but i think ultimately because it may feel like an immoral act down the road there's going to be guilt. where there's guilt there's often self destructive behavior.
>> in addition to the physical and the psychic risks they're taking, they also seem to not be getting paid sometimes very much.
>> no, the story that amanda fairbanks, education reporter wrote about, african-american student who went to college , who went all of the way to grenich to spend an afternoon and have sex with a wealthy man. at the end of which she got $350. and she said when she got back on the train to get home, she was racked with guilt and confusion about what she had done. so my question as a parent, we all have college kids , and what are we doing about it?
>> what are we doing about that, gayle?
>> i tell you what we need to be doing. it's not just about the desperation, it's staying in touch with your child about what their needs might be. if you really teach your child to be independent you're also teaching them to have moral compass . and this is -- this is frankly a lacking that. i think it's desperation and a change in our moral fiber where girls are able to say to themselves this is okay. it's not okay.
>> you can obviously, we have to do more to protect our children. thank you so much -- from these pressures.