When her son, Cole, came home from his first day of kindergarten at a public school in San Francisco two years ago, Lauren Sigurdson, a single mom who struggles to pay basic expenses, found a welcome surprise tucked in his backpack: a flier announcing that Cole would be getting his own savings account, with an initial $50 deposit.

The account was for Cole’s college education. Donors would match whatever deposits she (or anyone else) made. Since the account officially opened in January 2013, Ms. Sigurdson has saved $20 almost every month. Cole’s account is now worth $785.34.

Cole is one of more than 13,000 children in San Francisco who have benefited since 2010 from the Kindergarten to College program, which provides every public school student entering kindergarten with a Children’s Savings Account containing either the $50 deposit or, if the child is enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, $100.

Nationwide, C.S.A. programs are still small. They currently have the potential to serve a little more than 200,000 students, instead of the millions who could benefit. C.S.A.s are hardly the only solution to the college affordability puzzle, but they force families to start a conversation about planning and paying for higher education early.

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