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Montana State University Breaks Ground on $100 Million Nursing School Expansion

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated January 3, 2024
Edited by
    Montana State University received a $101 million gift to fund the nursing school's expansion and the only doctoral midwifery program in the state.
    Montana state flag and United States flag wavingCredit: Getty Images
    • A $101 million gift from the founders of Goosehead Insurance, Inc., allowed the Montana State University College of Nursing Great Falls to break ground on the first of five new nursing facilities.
    • The funds will also be used to endow five professorships to attract top faculty, scholarship funds, and the only doctorally prepared certified midwifery program in Montana.
    • The multimillion-dollar gift will help the university address the nurse shortage in the state and prepare nurses for work in rural communities.

    On November 29, Montana State University (MSU) College of Nursing announced it was breaking ground on the first of five nursing buildings supported by a large philanthropic gift of $101 million MSU received in August 2021. The goal of the gift is to help the state reduce its ongoing nurse shortage.

    The gift, the largest of its kind given to a college of nursing in the U.S., was from the founders of Goosehead Insurance, Inc., Mark and Robyn Jones. The first building is on the Great Falls campus, which the university hopes will increase enrollment capacity by 50%.

    “It is fitting that we are breaking ground here in Great Falls first because this is where it all started,” said Sarah Shannon, dean of the MSU nursing college, in a statement. “It is impossible to overstate what this investment means to our college, community, and state.”

    Montana State University Nursing School Expansion: What’s Included

    The $101 million gift will contribute to funding new facilities at each of the MSU College of Nursing campuses, located in Great Falls, Bozeman, Billings, Kalispell, and Missoula. Each facility will be equipped with state-of-the-art simulation labs so nursing students can practice their skills.

    The funds will also be used to endow five professorships, which the university hopes to use to attract top faculty and provide scholarship funding to help the school keep education costs affordable. Finally, the college will create the state’s only certified nurse-midwifery program to prepare doctoral-level nurses. This will help increase the number of maternal healthcare providers who are willing to work in rural communities in Montana.

    “It is hard to put into words how moved and excited all of us are at Montana State University by the generosity of the Joneses, who are helping to address some of the most critical health care disparity issues in Montana, particularly in the state’s rural areas,” said MSU President Waded Cruzado.

    Montana has a significant nursing shortage. Many of the counties don’t have even one maternal care or primary care provider needed to address key health challenges in an aging population.

    “We both grew up visiting Montana with our families, and now it is one of the places we call home,” said Robyn Jones. “We’ve seen firsthand the healthcare challenges that Montana faces, and we wanted to do something that will make an impact on the people of this beautiful state.”

    Robyn Jones founded Goosehead Insurance in 2003. In 2018, the company went public and now has more than 1,800 offices and a market capitalization of $5 billion. In their remarks, Robyn and Mark Jones underscored the importance of education.

    “When we graduated from high school and immediately married, we had no intention of going to college, either of us,” she said. “As the realities of adulting set in — groceries, rent, and the birth of our first daughter — we realized that an education would open doors and provide possibilities that we were unaware of.”

    Montana State Nursing Shortage: A Look at the Numbers

    After losing a friend to cancer, the couple learned of the nurse shortage in Montana and wanted to invest in Montana State University. The U.S. nurse-to-state per 1,000 population ratio is 9.22, while in Montana it is 8.92, including 10,020 employed registered nurses with a state population of 1,122,867.

    Nursing shortages have been cyclical from the 1970s through the 1990s, but the current shortage, which began roughly in 2012, is greater than any other the country has experienced in the past. Several factors have contributed to the national nursing shortage, including a shortage of nursing school faculty and nursing school enrollment that isn’t growing fast enough to meet the demand. Additionally, a significant segment of nurses are reaching retirement age, and many nurses left the profession during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    According to MSU, they have reached the limit of nurses they can prepare due to space constraints, Shannon told a reporter from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. They anticipate that the new facilities could double the number of psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners and family nurse practitioners they can graduate.

    The shortfall has had a significant impact on patient care, including studies that have found connections between adequate levels of RN staffing and safe care. Higher nurse shortages lead to increased errors, higher morbidity and mortality rates, and higher failure-to-rescue rates than in facilities with adequate staffing ratios.

    “Straight from the hearts of Mark and Robyn, this gift will forever change health care in Montana, and it will serve as a model for the nation,” Cruzado said in a statement. “Thanks to their vision, we will have access to tangible tools, such as high-quality simulation labs, new facilities across our nursing campuses, and more registered nurses, and doctor of nursing practice-prepared nurse practitioners and nurse midwives.”