School of Nursing receives largest gift ever

A $10 million donation from the Bentson Foundation will provide scholarships for up to 500 Doctor of Nursing students.

Alex Bitter

The University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing received the largest gift in the program’s history Wednesday.

The $10 million donation from the Bentson Foundation  will provide scholarships over the next 10 years to full-time students entering the Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Beginning next fall, the gift will be used to award up to 40 scholarships worth $20,000 each to students entering the doctorate program, said Nursing Associate Dean for Academic Programs Christine Mueller.

The number of awards will increase to 50 the following year, with the goal of graduating 500 more nurses over the next decade, she said.

As more Americans purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Mueller said, the need for nurses is expected to increase nationwide.

The donation comes after a state report by the Governor’s Workforce Development Council found Minnesota’s rate of about 25 nurse practitioners per 100,000 residents trails the national average of about 34 per 100,000.

The University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program offers a three-year track for post-undergraduate students and a three-semester track for students who have completed a master’s degree in nursing. Students can specialize in 13 different subject areas, from nurse practitioner to midwifery.

Mueller said all doctoral applicants to the program — one of the largest in the country — will be considered for the scholarship. But she said it will seek out those “who want to serve rural and underserved populations.”

Nursing professor Donna Bliss said she hopes the gift will bring more diversity to the program and individual clinical specialties that students study.

“That really makes the classroom much more interesting,” she said.

Third-year nursing practice student Connie Thach said the gift will reduce the financial stress of pursuing a graduate nursing degree.

“It allows the student to focus more on school,” she said. “They can say, ‘I can take that extra burden off of my shoulders.’”

For nursing practice students pursuing the doctorate after their undergraduate degree, it costs roughly $65,000 for the typical eight semesters of full-time study, according to tuition data.

Thach, who will have accumulated roughly $50,000 in debt by the time she graduates next May, said she knows many working nurses with undergraduate degrees who cannot afford to return to school to get their graduate degree.

“[This support has] been long overdue,” she said.

The University is matching the Bentson gift with $2 million —  obtained through re-allocation and additional fundraising — to expand advising and support services, according to a University press release.

Mueller said the gift will help the University meet the new demand for nurses.

“The motivation is to meet the health needs of Minnesotans and beyond,” she said.