FUEL Education believes that more low-income youth can and should attain higher education. Research and experience show that the most successful students are those who are supported by their parents in their college ambitions, not just financially, but in decision making, research, and enthusiasm. FUEL Education helps low-income parents in three Greater Boston communities learn about college access and save toward higher education.

FUEL Education offers a creative and powerful contract: we provide incentives toward saving and learning, host monthly educational workshops (Savings Circles) where they learn actionable ways to move their children toward higher education, and inform them about how to pay for it so the students can graduate with little or no debt. Parents respond by saving money, attending the Savings Circles, and putting their knowledge to use. The result is greater involvement by parents in the education of their children, which has been repeatedly shown to be a strong indicator of educational success.

Our model has shown remarkable success. Since 2009, more than 600 families have enrolled. They have opened over 700 educational savings accounts for their children and put away more than $525,000 toward higher education. There are now 164 FUEL Education students matriculating in college. Of those who started before last fall, 89 percent have returned to their studies year to year. This is a remarkable persistence rate since the national average is around 60 percent, and much lower for this at-risk population. So FUEL is hitting it out of the park with results that show the importance and impact of engaging parents as part of the students’ college access toolkit.

The Nasuuna family is a perfect example of how the FUEL Education system works. They immigrated from Somalia looking for a better life and joined FUEL when their oldest child, Bahiya, was in tenth grade. Having not gone to college themselves, Bahiya’s parents had no idea what the process was or how much it would cost. With FUEL’s help, they started attending Savings Circles and opened an educational savings account. Bahiya focused on her studies and got good grades all through high school while her parents continued to save and learn all they could about how to get her into college. Last fall, Bahiya began a pre-med track as public health major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on a full scholarship and is well on her way to a productive future for herself and her family. “FUEL helped get me where I am because it taught my mom things we didn’t know about college,” she said. “FUEL also helped us save $3,000, which really reduced our monthly payment for the payment plan I had.”

Low-income youth are falling well behind the educational curve because fewer of them are entering and staying in college, scared off by the high cost and crushing debt load. These students are being deprived of opportunities for themselves and their families, and the country’s workforce is being denied their intelligence, creativity, diversity, and energy. FUEL’s combination of incentivized learning and saving, and access to scholarships is a powerful package that helps underserved families gain the knowledge and skills that unlock college for their children. Our work empowers families to take steps that improve their own future and bolster their communities by educating their children. We are excited to have created a model that allows more underserved Massachusetts youth to follow their educational ambitions, improve their own prospects, and contribute their energy and ideas to the nation.