More money could be on its way to the state’s community colleges with retraining and development grants and financial assistance for workforce programs.
State Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Council received 48 nominations. There are 50 community colleges in Texas, but some applied as consortia, some as individuals, and some as both.
“These need to be looked at and scored, and then we’ll give those awards to the institutions, but it looks like community colleges are really stepping up. It’s about providing targeted funding… for them to develop or establish short-term programs to help people develop and develop, ”Keller said in a telephone interview on Friday.
He added that he was excited about it.
“We have a few other calls for proposals that will be released on financial aid, including financial aid for workforce programs, then a broader call on expanding short-term programs in education. higher so that it is community and technical colleges, universities, even our health sciences focus on expanding programs for people to train as frontline health workers, including nurses, for digital skills and for data analysis. This call for proposals will be launched in the next few weeks, so we are focusing on that, ”Keller said.
Keller said the Coordinating Council is also continuing its work to update the goals of higher education.
“At the October board meeting, we will present a new framework to refine our higher education goals, hopefully, so that there is better alignment with what the state needs now by. terms of educated workforce. Then, of course, the legislature is in session, so we work a lot at the agency, and then the legislature is in extraordinary session and they deliberate on how to redraw the district boundaries. Higher education is being addressed in these funding discussions about the potential allocation of funds to higher education from some of the $ 16 billion in coronavirus relief funds the state has, ”he said. he declares.
The state Senate on Friday released a proposal that contains some provisions to expand services around mental health and higher education institutions.
“So there’s a ton of stuff going on and it’s just this week,” Keller said.
Retraining and upgrading grants could be targeted at people who have left school but wish to return. However, Keller said it wasn’t limited to them.
“… We have set up financial aid and there will be another round of financial aid to come … where the focus is specifically on this population, but again, it is not exclusive. to them because we have so many Texans who are going to need retraining and upgrading of skills, ”he added. “Expectations in the job market have changed faster than anyone expected.”
Even though the jobs have come back, Keller said, they look different. There are different expectations.
“There are more technologies integrated and this is happening faster than anyone expected, so (there) are hundreds of thousands of people who are going to need to upgrade or upgrade. Skills upgrading may just be a short-term program that could help people get a better job, (advance) their career, or maybe get some other type of job that offers them a better job. stronger career path, ”added Keller.
Over the next week, the agency will have a call for applications to provide additional targeted financial assistance, particularly for short-term programs in primary healthcare, digital skills and data analytics.
The $ 3.5 trillion federal budget reconciliation bill includes a free community college proposal.
Keller said states can opt for the American pledge.
“Now it’s not free for the states. The idea is that the federal government would pay 100 percent of those projected costs for the first year and then withdraw its support, so it takes a pretty substantial commitment from the states to participate, ”he said.
“And for Texas, that would be hundreds of millions of dollars … It looks like it’s being set up on the same model that the federal government had proposed around the Medicaid expansion where states can opt (and) withdraw.” additional federal dollars, but they also need to make a pretty substantial commitment at the state level to be able to access (those funds), ”he said.
Since the bill did not pass and no one knows what the final form will look like, Keller said it was premature to speculate on the possibility of Texas pulling out.
On community college funding, Keller said a bill has been passed by the legislature that creates a community college finance commission. The governor appoints the chairman and three members of this commission, and then there are three members who will be appointed by the lieutenant governor and the chairman.
Brian Jones, director of vocational learning at Odessa College, was appointed to the committee.
Keller said the commission had a fairly broad set of charges to consider. Woody Hunt of El Paso was named president by Governor Greg Abbott.
“He’s an excellent choice for this role because he has a long history of leadership in higher education,” Keller said. “… He has been passionate about higher education issues for many years and therefore has extensive experience and personal knowledge on these issues. “
Keller said community college finances have not undergone this kind of scrutiny in recent history.
“… This will be an important opportunity to take a close look at how the state funds community colleges and how the funding system aligns and does not align with what the state needs from its colleges.” community, so it will be an important project. over the next few months, ”Keller said.