Grandparents give big to grandkids' college funds

grandparents college savings
More than half of grandparents surveyed by Fidelity said they are already helping, or plan to help, their grandkids' pay for college.

Even as they struggle to fund their own retirement dreams, many grandparents are putting tens of thousands of dollars toward helping their grandkids pay for college.

A little more than half, or 53%, are already saving or planning to start saving for their grandchild's college education, according to a Fidelity survey of 1,001 respondents who have at least one grandchild 18 or younger.

Of this group, the median contribution was $25,000 -- and 35% said they have given or expect to give $50,000 or more.

At the same time, 47% of grandparents acknowledged that they are worried about being able to save enough for their own retirement.

"Of course [grandparents] need to be thinking about their own situation, but providing for their grandkids is an emotional topic -- they want to make sure [their grandchildren] are set up for success," said Keith Bernhardt, vice president of college planning at Fidelity.

Related: College savings gap widens between rich and poor

About 35% of grandparents surveyed said they contribute to college savings on a monthly basis, while another 35% contribute in the form of occasional gifts.

Freakonomics author talks education
Freakonomics author talks education

While some give money directly to their adult children to hold onto for their grandkids, most manage their own funds -- like 529 savings plans -- and distribute the money when the child needs it for college.

Many respondents also said they are either including or will consider including college contributions for their grandkids in their estate plans.

"Contributions from grandparents -- big or small -- can add up over time and potentially open up a grandchild's opportunities when making college decisions," said Bernhardt.