Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday he is allocating $94.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for higher education programs to support students as they continue to navigate college during the pandemic.

The one-time funding comes from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief fund as part of the federal CARES Act. It will be distributed by the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board, in large part to encourage students to enroll in degree and certificate programs in areas with employee shortages and to launch new programs to academically support new students and those who might have started college but left before finishing.

“As we transition from pandemic response to economic recovery, a key dilemma our state faces is the significant gap between the skills and credentials many Texans possess and the needs of employers today and into the future,” said Commissioner of Higher Education Harrison Keller in a press release. “This dilemma requires strategic solutions and Texas higher education will play a pivotal role in empowering our state’s talent pipeline.”

The majority of the money, $48.1 million, will go toward helping schools start new high-demand programs or expand capacity in current programs so more students can earn credentials in fields experiencing labor shortages, such as health care, logistics, and technology.

In addition, $28.5 million will be set aside to boost student enrollment and provide extra student support such as academic advising and tutoring, and financial aid. While Texas university enrollment largely remained flat during the pandemic, community colleges saw large decreases.

Another $18 million will be used for new programs to help students finish college. That includes $10 million to start a student advising program called My Texas Future and $4 million to create a program called GradTX that will help adult students who have some college but no degree return to finish their certificate or degree. The coordinating board had asked the Legislature to fund the last program during the 2021 legislative session. The board estimates 4 million Texans have earned some college credit but not finished their programs.

Commissioner Keller said the agency is working with the Greater Houston Partnership, a chamber of commerce that represents the larger Houston area, as well as four colleges and universities in the Houston region to design the GradTX program, which he hopes can be replicated in communities across the state.

An additional $4 million will go toward boosting data security within a multi-agency group that includes the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission. The Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, launched in 2016, works to connect students and higher education with workforce needs.

Abbott previously allocated $175 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funding to support higher education during the pandemic, including $57 million for student financial aid at two- and four-year schools. He also directed $46.5 million to a grant program in which colleges and universities applied for funding to help students who lost their jobs during the pandemic and needed to learn additional skills to find new jobs.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.

Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune

Kate McGee covers higher education for The Texas Tribune.