San Antonio colleges and universities will get $236 million in additional federal coronavirus relief funding, with half of those dollars going directly to students struggling because of the pandemic, the U.S. Education Department announced this week.

The federal government is not limiting which students are eligible for aid, like it did with the first two rounds of coronavirus relief funding. Any student enrolled during the pandemic can receive a portion of the federal dollars, including non-U.S. citizens, said Priscilla Camacho, Alamo Colleges director of government relations.

“That just opens those doors dramatically for trying to reach students who have been impacted by COVID and need that additional aid,” she said.

The $36 billion for higher education institutions nationwide is “good news for our Dreamers, who have faced so much uncertainty,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said in a statement. “Dreamers” are beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to stay in the country.

“Wrongful Trump restrictions have been removed so that Dreamers now qualify just like other students,” he said. “Our commitment to higher education reflects our support for both individual student wellbeing and achievement and our need for a highly educated, competitive workforce.”

Unlike the federal aid for K-12 schools, the higher education funds go directly to colleges and universities, bypassing the state. Institutions receive two pots of money – one for students and one for the school. Colleges and universities can spend the funds meant for the institution on students, which is what Alamo Colleges did with previous federal coronavirus relief funding, Camacho said.

About 30,000 Alamo Colleges students have received some financial aid from their school from the first coronavirus relief act passed in March 2020 and the December COVID-19 relief package, Camacho said. She anticipates seeing “an influx of students” applying for the financial aid, which they can use on tuition and other educational expenses.

“That’s been one of the pain points we’ve heard from students is that they want to take more classes or they wanted to come back, but they didn’t know if they could use their federal aid toward tuition,” she said.

Funding is prioritized for colleges and universities with high numbers of low-income students enrolled. Four-year public universities will receive the most funding, with the University of Texas at San Antonio getting more than $86 million and Texas A&M University-San Antonio getting about $18 million.

Joe Izbrand, UTSA chief communications officer, said students can submit an emergency aid application to be considered for any available aid.

“We are currently developing a plan for distributing the funds in a way that will help as many of our students as possible to be successful in their academic efforts,” he said.

The U.S. Education Department is requiring higher education institutions to prioritize students who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Colleges and universities also can use the money to help retain and reengage students by providing academic and mental health support and eliminating student debt accrued during the pandemic. Additionally, part of the funds must be used to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campuses and to get students vaccinated. Institutions also can use the money to provide staff with paid time off to get vaccinated.

Camacho said Alamo Colleges will use some of its funds to prepare for the return of students to campus. The colleges expect to reach 50% in-person capacity this summer and up to 100% in the fall.

Here’s a breakdown of the funds headed to San Antonio institutions:

  • Texas A&M–San Antonio: $18,061,798
  • St. Mary’s University: $8,273,832
  • UTSA: $86,579,734
  • Alamo Colleges District:
    • San Antonio College: $32,143,060
    • Saint Philip’s College: $15,437,261
    • Palo Alto College: $15,225,317
    • Northwest Vista College: $26,961,264
    • Northeast Lakeview College: $7,779,472
  • University of the Incarnate Word: $15,294,334
  • Our Lady of the Lake University: $6,094,516
  • Trinity University: $4,265,313
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Brooke Crum

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.