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Austin American-Statesman: Central Texas colleges, students to split $250 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief

Central Texas higher education institutions and students are set to receive more than $250 million from the latest federal pandemic relief package.

The money is part of $36 billion from the American Rescue Plan, signed by President Joe Biden in March, allotted to help colleges and universities respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Of the money provided to institutions, roughly half must go directly to student relief, the Department of Education announced Tuesday. That assistance will now be available to all students, a change from a Trump administration rule that left undocumented and international students out of pandemic relief.

“Wrongful Trump restrictions have been removed so that Dreamers now qualify just like other students,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, said in a statement. “Good news for our Dreamers, who have faced so much uncertainty, and for all students and higher education leaders, who have encountered so many pandemic challenges.”

Institutions can use the money to create emergency grants for students with “exceptional needs,” increase student retention and engagement and prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to the Education Department.

“These funds are critical to ensuring that all of our nation’s students — particularly those disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — have the opportunity to enroll, continue their education, graduate, and pursue their careers,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

Doggett said Central Texas institutions will receive the following amounts:

  • University of Texas at Austin: $86 million
  • Huston-Tillotson University: $5 million
  • Texas State University: $92 million
  • Austin Community College: $58 million
  • St. Edward’s University: $11 million

The one-time federal funds come as the Texas Legislature crafts its budget for the next two years and debates how much to put toward higher education.

Experts have warned that the state’s proposed funding for higher education might fall short of federal requirements, leaving the state without access to billions more from previous rounds of federal pandemic relief.

Education advocates have urged state leaders to raise higher education spending and unlock the remaining federal funds.

“We need more funding. Our school districts and higher education institutions need the additional resources to recoup pandemic-related expenses, address learning losses and operate safely as we work to emerge from this health emergency,” the presidents of the Texas Faculty Association and Texas State Teachers Association said in a joint statement.

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