It’s a crying shame that more than half of parents of Maine’s newborns are not taking advantage of the $500 gift that is the Harold Alfond College Challenge.

According to a story published in the Bangor Daily News on Wednesday, only 40 percent of eligible parents have ever signed up for the Challenge, which is to establish a NextGen investment account for their child’s college costs. Any parent who establishes that account by their child’s first birthday receives $500 to get the savings started.

It costs nothing to do and every child born in Maine qualifies for this college savings program.

According to a spokeswoman for the Finance Authority of Maine, which administers the Alfond Challenge, one of the reasons parents may be hesitant to establish a savings account is that we’re all naturally wary of anything that sounds too good to be true.

This Challenge sounds good and it’s true, so there’s nothing for parents to fear.

The paperwork to establish the account can be a little daunting, but FAME is doing its best to make it easier to sign up.

The idea behind the Challenge, established in 2008, is for parents to add to the initial $500 deposit as their child grows, and to have funds available to pay for college costs.

It’s a good idea, and even if parents aren’t able to contribute much over the years, that initial $500 will earn money all on its own and be available to pay for something — even if it’s only books — when the child goes to college.

This really is free money. Those who qualify to take it should do so.

Consider it an investment in your child.

Lewiston Sun-Journal (May 6)