Program allows some North Texas school districts to help families start saving for college

The cost of college weighs heavily on parents' minds, even those who have years to prepare.

According to College Board, it costs, on average, nearly $86,000 to attend a public, four-year university.

Taking inflation and rising tuition costs into account, that number for little ones starting kindergarten this year is expected to shoot up to $174,000.

That's why a couple of North Texas school districts are hoping a new program will make the sticker shock easier to handle come 2033.

“I want to be a vet and a doctor,” 6-year-old Madison Chavez said.

Chavez is only in first grade, but her mom, Karina, is already starting to put away money towards college.

“For them, it will be an opportunity when they grow up,” Karina Chavez said.

Chavez said that after 10 years, she decided to go back to school to pursue a degree in psychology, but it comes at a steep price.

“I had to take out loans, it's expensive. I know I'm going to have to pay them back, so if they don't do that, that will be great for them. If I can help them not to do that, that will be great,” she said.

The Chavez family is one of several in Richardson ISD who are taking advantage of the 'Dollars for College' program, which gives kids a jump start on saving for college, starting in kindergarten and first grade.

“We find that so many of our parents do not have any money set aside and they really start to worry about that whenever their kids are like seniors in high school,” Richardson ISD Superintendent Dr. Jeannie Stone said.

For every family who enrolls in the program, the district will make a starting deposit and help open up a savings account in each student's name.

Then, families will have opportunities throughout the year to earn more money toward the account, in addition to making contributions of their own.

The funds contributed by the district are donated through United Way, Communities Foundation of Texas, and several other organizations.

The goal of the program is to get those accounts up to at least $500 after two years.

“We know that $500 is not a lot of money to pay for school, but $500 is a semester of community college, it's books and fees, it helps offset some of the costs of college, it's to try to get parents to begin to save,” said Wende Burton, with Communities Foundation of Texas.

And to plant the idea in students' minds that college is something they can achieve.

“It also plants a seed that this is important in the hearts and minds of kids,” Dr. Stone added. “When they know something's set aside and waiting for them, it plants that seed that will make a huge difference by the time they graduate from high school.”

The program is currently offered at three schools in Richardson ISD, where the majority of students are from low-income families.

It's also offered in Lancaster ISD, where about $42,000 has been contributed to accounts for more than 400 students.