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$101 million gift from Mark and Robyn Jones and famiy enables university to break ground on five new nursing buildings
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$101 million gift from Mark and Robyn Jones and famiy enables university to break ground on five new nursing buildings

With help from an historic $101 million donation, Montana State University is constructing five new buildings across the state for nursing education to help provide health care and meet the need for more nurses.

The buildings will be at each of MSU’s five campuses — Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula.

“These new buildings will provide students with a better learning experience and allow us to enroll more students to help meet the nursing shortage in Montana,” said Sarah Shannon, dean of the nursing college.

The buildings are expected to be open for business in fall 2026 if construction goes as planned, and the expansion takes place as the state continues to struggle with a nursing shortage.

The new buildings will allow MSU to graduate 100 more nurses every year.

MSU produces 300 bachelor’s-prepared nurses annually who are qualified to become registered nurses, she said; the new buildings will increase that number to 400.

She also said an estimated 80% of all graduates across the college of nursing stay in Montana.

“So that’s an excellent return on investment for Montana from our graduates,” Shannon said.

The historic donation came from Mark and Robyn Jones, for whom the college is named. It is the largest in MSU’s history.

“In 2021, it was the largest donation made to a college of nursing in the United States,” said Tracy Ellig, vice president of communications for MSU, in an email. “It still remains one of the largest.”

Shannon said $92 million will go toward the five buildings, and the remainder will fund five endowed professorships, a new nurse midwifery program, and scholarships.

For 87 years, she said MSU has been leasing space on its non-Bozeman campuses, and none of the buildings were constructed for education or teaching. Two are old dorms and two are renovated medical offices.

“We’re land-locked. We literally cannot put any more students in our current facilities,” Shannon said.

She said increasing capacity was part of the motivation for the new buildings. All of them will have larger classrooms, modern simulation facilities, and skills labs, in addition to larger and modern spaces, she said.

The report from the Department of Labor and Industry said the number of nurses working in Montana is growing rapidly, from 18,000 registered nurses in 2020 to more than 20,000 in 2022, an 11% increase. It said pay is increasing as well.

However, it said the labor market is tight, the work is stressful, and 26% of registered nurses in the field plan to retire or leave the industry in the next five years.

“Those who are working report an increased workload due to the pandemic, and many report feeling emotionally drained at least a few times a week,” said the report.

The report, called “Status of the Nursing Workforce in Montana,” is a summary of results from the National Council State Board of Nursing 2022 survey.

“Montana’s ability to attract and retain a high-qualified nursing workforce will help reduce the load on the state’s existing workforce and help ensure all Montanans have access to high-quality healthcare,” it said.

At MSU, Shannon said the curriculum addresses the stressors and crises in the medical field and how nurses can respond compassionately and clearly to support people in times of both high stress and high need.

MSU said it broke ground for the Great Falls building in the fall and has scheduled other groundbreaking ceremonies in April.

It said land for four of the sites was donated by health care partners — Billings Clinic and Intermountain Health St. Vincent Regional Hospital in Billings, Benefis Health System in Great Falls, Community Medical Center in Missoula, and Logan Health in Kalispell.

The Bozeman building will be constructed on the MSU campus.

Photo: Robyn and Mark Jones, cofounders of Goosehead Insurance and their son-in-law Ryan Langston, president of the Jones’ Flathead Ridge Ranch, are pictured on the Jones’ property on Big Mountain in Whitefish.

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