In the past 25 years, college costs have risen to nearly three times the rate of the cost of living. With the recession and skyrocketing unemployment rates, more than half of all American families can't afford to send their kids to college.
Jaiquann, Elijah and twins Darien and Barien are high school track stars and top students who also work to help support their single mothers. The boys keep each other motivated—on and off the track. "Darien and Barien are kind of keeping me on track with my grades and everything," Jaiquann says. "They're probably the reason why I got a 3.5 this year."
Although they've been accepted to their dream universities, they cannot afford to go. "When I got accepted there, I was actually pretty stoked and excited," Jaiquann says. "But when I realized that I wasn't going to be able to afford it, it just pretty much saddened me."
Little do they know, their lives are about to change forever. The unsuspecting foursome is flown to Chicago, where they think they're going to talk to Oprah about how the recession has affected their families.
Elijah, who recently lost his job as an overnight waiter, tells Oprah he will find another job instead of going to school. "If I'm able to go to college, I'd be one of the few in my family to go," he says. "I just don't really talk about it and don't really acknowledge it enough because I don't really see it coming true."
While they're talking with Oprah, a surprise guest is waiting in the wings!
Grammy-winning Black Eyed Peas star will.i.am says that without the love and support of his single mother, he may have fallen into the negative influences of the housing project they lived in—which is why he wants to make these teens' futures even brighter.
The boys will be the first recipients of will.i.am's i am scholarship—which will cover tuition, books and fees for four years. "The only thing you have to worry about is succeeding and showing the world that the youth is the future of America and the world," he says. "The only thing I ask for you guys is to prove that single parents are the strongest people on the planet."
And there's one more surprise for Barien—he's been accepted to his first choice school's pharmacy program!
Inspired by then-candidate Barack Obama's message of change during the election, will.i.am did his part to inspire voters with the Emmy award-winning video "Yes, We Can"—the first of three songs he wrote supporting President Obama. "So if I'm gonna go out there and say, 'Hey, let's go get Obama in the White House and expect him to do everything,' that's pretty silly, right?" he says. "So I want to do my part."
Though he originally planned to sponsor one student, will.i.am says he couldn't resist helping all four once he heard their stories. "They had a dream and they have single moms, and they're kids that got accepted to college and they have no way of paying," he says.
He says he feels it's his duty to help inspire the future of our country. "You can get your money and you put it in the bank, or you can put it in the youth. You can put it in our future," he says. "I've traveled the world because someone believed in me, and it makes me feel like you can have dreams, especially in this crisis, right? That doesn't mean we stop dreaming."