It’s 7 a.m. Cynthia Benson has just woken up, and she is getting ready for her day. She will likely not be home again until 8 or 9 p.m., so she packs all of her meals ahead of time. After she drops her daughter off at her father’s house, she heads to her classes beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the University of Arkansas.

Benson’s days regularly push 17 hours. She works four jobs to support herself and her two-year-old daughter, in addition to paying for an education.

The problem that arises for college students like Benson is that a college degree is essential to attain a higher-paying job. High school graduates only earn approximately 62 percent of that of college graduates, according to a Pew Research Center survey. To make ends meet until graduation, students must rely on hourly jobs to cover bills and the cost of attending college.

Benson, 22, works 16 hours each week, on top of attending school full-time. She teaches two fitness classes, waits tables for $2.33 per hour, and writes for the school newspaper for about $20 each week. Stacking those jobs enables her to provide for herself and her daughter, and pay the difference after scholarships are applied to the cost of her education.

She is a part of a trend of an increasing number of students paying for college expenses on their own, except she has the added expense of caring for her child.

In Arkansas, 4.3 percent of all employees work more than one job, according to a 2010 survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“If I could quit working one of my jobs I could have more down time at home with my daughter,” Benson said. But she said she is making just enough to get by.

To balance working four jobs, Benson developed a system to help her meet all of her obligations. For example, she sets specific times for spending time with her daughter and for homework. To manage her time, she makes an hour-by-hour agenda for each day.

“The hardest thing for me is finding time to clean my house or put laundry away–little things like that,” Benson said.

When she isn’t at school or work, she is at ballet classes or rehearsals. Classes and rehearsal take up a large portion of the little free time she has, and push her nights back to 8:45 p.m. After she puts her daughter to bed, she is finally able to work on homework.

Benson said she looks forward to graduating college and getting a job that will allow her to focus on dance and her daughter.

“Because of my obligations and lack of money, I don’t really ever do anything with friends or spend money on ‘fun’ things,” Benson said.

She is on the right track, according to several studies conducted by Pew Research Center in 2013. College graduates say that college is worth the investment, and college-educated millenials are more likely to see themselves as having a career or being on board to attain one.

Often, in order to juggle school and work, sacrifices must be made. In Benson’s case, it’s her free time.

Lucy Harris, 20, is another Arkansan from Little Rock who had to make sacrifices in order to pay the bills. Between working two jobs at just above the minimum wage and going to school full time, it just wasn’t possible to do it all. Harris had to take time off from school – and give up her prestigious Donaghey scholarship at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock – to make time to work to pay bills.

“I ran out of money a lot, and the stress from not being able to make ends meet almost failed me out of school,” Harris said. “Now I’m working two jobs trying to get back into school.”

From an economic perspective, it’s vastly accepted that attending college is a worthwhile endeavor, said Salar Jahedi, a UA economics professor.

It isn’t as simple as comparing the salaries of college graduates and those who only completed high school, Jahedi said.

In theory, there are a few ways researchers have tried to measure the cost of attending college, Jahedi said. Computing the benefits using the above method, of course, reveals that college is a great investment. But this is method is incorrect, he said. Often, those students who attend college have skills that would increase their salaries even if they did not attend college.

“Thus far, it appears that college is still a good investment on average than not attending college,” Jahedi said.

This won’t be true for every graduate, however, as the price of attending college continues to rise and the benefits remain constant, Jahedi said.

Benson said that despite her hectic schedule, she is happy to have her daughter, and she remains optimistic.

“For now, I’m just working and doing the best I can in every area of my life,” Benson said.


FAYETTEVILLE–Betty Anderson views her life as orderly as that of the English alphabet: you must pass one letter before arriving at the next, and where you are now couldn’t have happened without what came before, good or bad.

“Alphabet soup. That’s what I like to call it,” she said.

Seventh grade was perhaps Anderson’s “A” in this chain of events, where she was among the first black students to be integrated into the formerly all-white West Side Junior High School in Little Rock.

Anderson, now 64, has spent the last 30 years revisiting people and places from her past, and sometimes that includes revisiting periods of racial oppression. When she isn’t volunteering at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville or spending time with her family, she’s likely on the University of Arkansas campus, where she is working on her master’s degree in theater and a three-part play called “Out of One Blood” that is based upon those experiences beginning in junior high.

“The scripture for Acts 17:26 had been with me and a part of my life since I was in seventh grade,” Anderson said of the Bible verse from which she drew the name for her trilogy.

The verse is a source of inspiration for her trilogy, along with notes gathered for another original piece that she developed in the 1980s called “Sitting on the Flat Side of a Dime­–Learning Spiritual Principles From Life’s Experiences.”

In 1961, just four years after the racial integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1957, Anderson and eight other black students stepped bravely into the halls of the junior high. At the time, Anderson didn’t feel like she was making any waves, but she did find importance in clearing a path upon which her younger sisters would one day walk.

“I still remember my daddy saying, ‘better books at West Side,’” Anderson said, “which is true, but I didn’t want to go.”

Anderson wanted to attend an all-black school with her childhood classmates and neighborhood friends. But, she passed the personality test administered to black student and teacher candidates for integration into white schools, and was pushed into a successful but difficult academic career.

The group of black students was split up among several classes at West Side. Though some of her teachers were encouraging, others did what they could to make sure she didn’t excel beyond the white students in her classes. In one instance, a math teacher curved test grades so that her 98 percent grade on a test fell to a B.

Another one of the nine integrated students who went on to high school with Anderson, Kenneth Jones, said he remembered one teacher consistently gave him bad grades, but gave Anderson good grades. One day, Anderson came up with the idea to switch their papers, and she was given a good grade for Jones’ paper, and he received a poor grade for Anderson’s paper.

“We supported each other emotionally, psychologically, and academically. We did everything we could to build each other up,” Jones said.

Anderson reminded him that he was not to blame for the problem, and that it was the teacher to blame because she could not overcome her personal prejudices against the boy.

After lunch one day, Anderson and a white boy got into a fight on the school’s tennis court. While standing in a long line of antsy seventh graders waiting to go back inside, she mumbled, “I just hope somebody kicks me.” As soon as she had, she felt a sharp pain in her back. Though both students were injured after the fight, and the boy initiated the violence, she was sent home and the boy was taken to the doctor.

“They set us up to fail,” Anderson said.

Nevertheless, Anderson graduated from Little Rock Central High School in the top 10 percent of her class.

In 1967, Walter Cronkite of CBS News interviewed her on national television for her achievements, which also included being the first black student to work in the school’s bookstore and being the first black student to direct the senior class play.

As a member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, Anderson competed in oratorical contests statewide and won awards for her speeches. Her love for the stage, she said, took root at this time.

Also while at LRCHS, Anderson and two of her close friends formed a musical group called “The Pearls,” for which they wrote musical numbers and sewed their own costumes. The girls were the first black students to perform in the school’s talent show.

After graduation, Anderson took her all-white cap and gown and drug the attire down and up the steep front steps of the school, then folded them neatly and put them back into the box for return.

“Choice Made, Price Paid” is what Anderson calls the third part of her trilogy, which alludes to her and her classmates’ experiences out of grade school. Though they’ve all become relatively successful, she said, it was not without a price.

“I had deep, conflicted feelings about my time at both West Side and LRCHS,” she said. “I harbored a lot of rage for a long time.”

She was drawn to Augsberg College in Minneapolis, Minn., because of the Guthrie Theater located just a little over a mile away. Anderson studied communication and speech, which reflected her favorite subjects throughout grade school and college: English and drama.

Just out of college, she worked for the Minneapolis Spokesman, a small black newspaper. From 1972 to 1981, she worked as the head librarian for the Arkansas Gazette, a job which she jokingly tells people was what caused her first marriage to break apart.

“I married the Gazette,” she said.

From then on, Anderson worked several odd jobs in communications, marketing and sales to support her daughter, Maliaka, whom she had in 1972 with her first husband.

In 2005, Anderson faced the challenge of helping Maliaka recover from a serious illness that left her unable to remember any events that had happened to her over the past three years, including the birth of her daughter.

“She is a spiritual-minded woman, but she’s also independent,” said long-time friend Magdalene Taylor. “She’s always thinking and planning and moving forward.”

Anderson finally caught a breath of fresh air during this tragic time when she met her second husband through an online dating site. Lawrence Anderson was a part of the family immediately upon moving to Fayetteville in 2006, as he took Maliaka to rehab every day after her recovery.

Betty and Lawrence married in 2007.

She officially enrolled in the graduate program at the UofA in 2013. Since being a part of the theater program, she has directed and acted in plays and musicals at the school. She plans to graduate in 2016 with two graduate degrees, in theater and in African-American studies.

“Black theater has a different message, or raison d’etre,” she said. “We have to shine a light on the things that the world would not necessarily think about in its normal, day-to-day goings-on.”

Anderson’s ultimate goal is for “Out of One Blood” to be taught to students. She continues to impart the knowledge she’s gained from her experiences to the people she meets.