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Montana State University has received a $101 million donation for the College of Nursing that will go to expanding new facilities at five campuses across the state, creating a scholarship fund and five endowed professorships.

School officials are touting it as the largest single donation to the university in its history, and believe it to be the biggest ever to a college of nursing in the U.S.

MSU President Waded Cruzado thanked Mark and Robyn Jones, founders of Goosehead Insurance Inc. and part-time Montana residents, who gifted the money during a Monday event on MSU’s campus in Bozeman.

“We see this gift as an opportunity to partner with many hospital systems and nursing programs in the state of Montana,” Cruzado said.

Robyn Jones said she hoped the donation would help meet a critical need for health care workers in Montana. The couple live in Texas, but spend much of their time in Whitefish — the two both grew up visiting the Flathead Valley as children. The Flathead Beacon reported that the couple own about one-fifth of all private land in Flathead County.

The couple, originally from Alberta, Canada, were inspired to make the donation after losing a Whitefish friend to cancer and learning of the need for more health care professionals in Montana.

“An investment in the nursing program could address some of the critical challenges the state faces, particularly in the areas of mental health, the aging population, substance abuse and prenatal care,” Robyn Jones said.

MSU nursing donation

Robyn Jones, co-founder with her husband of Goosehead Insurance Inc., speaks during a press conference announcing a $101 million philanthropic gift given by the the Jones' to the Montana State University College of Nursing on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. MSU says the donation will be the "largest gift to a university nursing program in U.S. history and the largest philanthropic gift in Montana history".

The money is planned to go toward expanding new teaching buildings at each of the MSU College of Nursing’s five campuses in Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula.

Those should be completed no later than 2030, an MSU spokesperson said, and will include modern classrooms and simulation labs.

The money will also create the only nurse midwifery program in Montana — which the university expects will produce 8 midwives per year by 2030 — a scholarship endowment for students and five new professor positions.

Sarah Shannon, dean of the MSU College of Nursing, said the gift will address a shortage of health care in rural and remote Montana. About 80% of MSU’s nursing graduates stay in the state, she said.

“We have reached our limit on the number of nurses we can prepare due primarily to space constraints,” Shannon said. “No more.”

MSU anticipates the number of graduates from the College of Nursing will increase from 256 to 400 by 2030 with the addition of the new programs and facilities, and double the number of family nurse practitioners and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners.

“That will allow us to meet the state’s projected shortfall in baccalaureate-prepared nurses by 2030,” she said.

MSU nursing donation

John Hill, president of Bozeman Health, speaks during a press conference announcing a $101 million philanthropic gift given to the MSU of Nursing on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. MSU says the donation will be the "largest gift to a university nursing program in U.S. history and the largest philanthropic gift in Montana history".

John Hill, the CEO of Bozeman Health and vice chair of the Montana Hospital Association, said the donation comes at a time when nurses deserve thanks and recognition.

“All of us in health care recognize the extraordinary value of nurses and all of us see the tremendous, pressing, urgent need for more nurses in our state and nation,” Hill said.

Robyn Jones said they chose the college of nursing because they believed it would have the biggest impact on the state.

Mark Jones said: “(Montanans) are the kind of people that make you want to invest in them.”

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Juliana Sukut can be reached at 582-2630 or jsukut@dailychronicle.com

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