NASHVILLE— The Tennessee Higher Education Commission is asking lawmakers to expand a $10 million grant program that paired employers with colleges to develop academic programs tailored to the needs of local job markets.

According to The Tennessean ( ), the commission said in a report released Wednesday that Labor Education Alignment Program has grown substantially, but needs to receive more funding and attention during the upcoming legislative session.

The program doled out the grant funding to 12 different coalitions late in 2014.

The report says that thousands of students across 51 counties were reached by the first wave of grant funding, including 13,363 students who participated in extracurricular programming, including internships, clubs or training.

The commission says that funding a larger number of coalitions moving forward would help expand the program’s impact.

“The demand for expansion into other state geographic regions remains substantial,” the report said. “Additional funds that enable new communities to align educational and training resources to meet the needs of new employers and work sectors would provide the opportunity for Tennessee to sharpen and maintain its competitive edge in the nation’s labor market.”

The program is part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55, which aims to increase the number of Tennesseans with a college education.

Drive to 55 Director Mike Krause said the higher education model takes a “new approach” that includes input from businesses and manufacturers.

“We ask for employers to be on the front end of the program to make sure that the program meets their needs,” Krause said. “You want employers involved in those kinds of discussions.”