The University of Connecticut School of Nursing has received a gift of $40 million from graduate and former nurse Elizabeth DeLuca to be used to expand the ability of the School of Nursing to produce highly-qualified, experienced nurses amidst a national shortage in the profession. DeLuca, who graduated from UConn in 1969, is a philanthropist and the widow of Fred DeLuca, the billionaire co-founder of Subway. Her gift will be supplemented by support from UConn and the state of Connecticut.
Plans are already underway to create a new, state-of-the-art nursing building with the funds from the gift, the largest in the university’s history. A proposal for the new facility places it on the south side of campus on Alethia Drive, between the Human Development Center and the Communication Sciences Building, which includes UConn’s Brain Imaging Research Center. This building will largely replace the functions of the current School of Nursing building at Storrs Hall, and is designed to include the necessary infrastructure and technological upgrades for novel clinical simulations and expanded learning outcomes for students. Construction is planned to begin in the fall 2024 semester and conclude before the start of the fall 2026 semester.
The School of Nursing also hopes to use the gift to expand enrollment, increasing each incoming class from approximately 175 students today to a minimum of 250 students. Combined with expanded scholarship initiatives, the university anticipates the increase in enrollment will ensure more students than ever can access a UConn nursing degree, regardless of their financial situation. Applications to the UConn School of Nursing have increased even amidst slumps for similar institutions, totaling 2,900 in 2023, an increase of well over 300 compared to the previous year.
“The gift is transformative for the School of Nursing,” says UConn School of Nursing Dean Victoria Vaughan Dickson. “It’s going to allow us to address the nursing shortage, to rapidly increase our student enrollment, and expand our patient-centered program.”
The gift will have a tremendous impact on the UConn School of Nursing’s graduate program as well as its undergraduate program.
“The problem with the nursing shortage also includes a shortage of nurse faculty,” Dickson notes. “[The gift] will include support for nurse educators.”
The primary focus of the gift is on the students, she emphasizes, both undergraduate and graduate. With the money, the School of Nursing will not only be able to make strides in technology-based nursing innovation, but also expand access to a UConn education for hundreds more students.
“There’s a national trend in flattening out in undergraduate applications, but that’s not the case for UConn,” she says. “UConn nurses are always highly sought after. Students who want to become nurses want to become UConn nurses.”
Amidst an increasing interest in the UConn School of Nursing from undergraduate applicants, the gift allows UConn to accept more and more of the country’s top nurses and cement their program as one of the nation’s best.
“Right now, our entire graduate class is about a little over 1,000. We’re going to increase the number of undergraduate students significantly and increase the number of nurse educator graduates,” Dickson explains. “We expect the graduate program to double in the next year.”
Such an increase is expected to be an important step in fixing the critical nursing shortage affecting the entirety of the United States, including Connecticut. Forecasts indicate the nursing profession may be short 5.7 million nurses by 2030 in an increasingly aging America.
A variety of factors are responsible for the shortage, including the natural retirement process, the unique stress and strain on nurses in the last few years, the increased complexity of healthcare and the demand for highly skilled nurses. The UConn School of Nursing aims for its students to enter the profession with the experience and innovation necessary to promote health equity regionally, nationally and globally.
The School of Nursing’s new building is the embodiment of this aim. Dickson hopes the facility will be the center of the “future of nursing,” a hub of nursing research as well as student activity.
“We’re looking at innovative ways to use that existing space,” Dickson says of Storrs Hall, the current home of the UConn School of Nursing, “but the new School of Nursing will really provide that state-of-the-art technology space.”
According to University Planning, Design and Construction, the building will include a student academic center, a wet lab, a human behavioral research lab, a simulation lab suite and spaces from student instructions, including a lecture hall and classrooms. The planning phase is expected to end in June 2024 pending the start of construction in November 2024.
“This is a visionary gift,” Dickson explains. “It builds on the strong foundation of UConn Nursing and positions us very well to produce the next generation of nurses to meet the nursing demands of our state.”