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Maine program brightens college prospects – at birth

Foundation offers $500 grants to all newborns – provided their parents open a college-savings account.

The Farwell family (Keenan, Laurie, and daughter Hadley) was among the first to sign up for a college savings plan and get a $500 grant through a new philanthropic program in Maine.

courtesy of paul kennedy/mainegeneral health

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Just a few days into the new year, Laurie and Keenan Farwell welcomed their daughter Hadley into the world. The hospital staff at MaineGeneral Health in Augusta had the pleasure of delivering not just the baby, but also her first birthday gift: $500 toward her future education.

Hadley is a beneficiary of the new Harold Alfond College Challenge, a first-in-the nation philanthropic program that will give families statewide a $500 starter grant – and assistance with paperwork – to set up 529 college savings accounts for infants.

"It was very exciting to think she's not even a couple hours old, and she's already looking at her college fund," Ms. Farwell said in a phone interview as Hadley patiently sucked on her tiny hand, awaiting a feeding.

Harold Alfond founded Dexter Shoe Co. in Maine in 1958 and shared millions of dollars to promote health and education in the state. After giving many scholarships to college-age students, "he wanted to help build aspirations for college at the front end of life," says Greg Powell, chairman of the board of the Harold Alfond Foundation. Mr. Alfond laid the groundwork for this legacy before he died in November.

While elite colleges have moved recently to replace loans with grants, the high cost of college is still a barrier to many families. As efforts continue to rein in those costs, the Maine scholarship is a creative way to address the other side of the college-debt problem – the dearth of long-range savings.

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