A crowd of people wearing green scrubs and black vests
Students at the VCU School of Nursing Vesting Ceremony. A combined $13 million gift from Joanne and Bill Conway will allow the school to provide need-based scholarships to undergraduate and doctoral nursing students. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

VCU School of Nursing receives largest gift in school’s history to fund student scholarships

A $13 million gift made by Joanne and Bill Conway will provide need-based scholarships for over 1,000 undergraduate and doctoral nursing students, support diversity in health care.

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 The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing received a $13 million gift made by philanthropists Joanne and Bill Conway through their Bedford Falls Foundation-DAF. The gift, the largest in the school’s history, will enable the school to provide scholarships to reduce the cost of a nursing education for more than 1,000 undergraduate and doctoral students over the next five years.

“This gift will fundamentally transform the VCU School of Nursing program, allowing us to offer much-needed financial support to our students who are the future of the nursing profession,” said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., professor and dean of the VCU School of Nursing and Doris B. Yingling Endowed Chair. “The Conways’ generosity will have an enormous impact on building a diverse pipeline of early career nurses and future researchers and gives VCU the important responsibility of educating and delivering that workforce. I am deeply grateful for their commitment to our students.”

Currently, over 70% of undergraduate nursing students at VCU qualify for a need-based scholarship. With the latest gift, the school can double the total amount of scholarship support for students and increase the number of scholarships awarded by 37% over the next five years.

“Having a scholarship takes a lot of pressure off, both financially and mentally, allowing me to fully focus on my studies,” said Aditi Bhandari, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing with the support of a Conway scholarship. “Having less student debt allows me to take my education further. I plan to go back to school for my Master of Science in Nursing degree in the future.”

A woman wearing green scrubs standing in an examination room
Aditi Bhandari, an undergraduate nursing student, is pursuing a career in nursing with the support of a Conway scholarship.

Since 2019, the Conways have provided more than $18.5 million to support the VCU School of Nursing through their philanthropic vehicles. Their latest contribution also enables the school to welcome 15% more students each year. 

“The Conways’ gift comes at an extraordinary time in our school’s growth,” Giddens said. “Many of our programs will increase enrollment in the coming years. At a time when the nation is facing persistent nursing shortages, funds like these are particularly critical to ensure a strong and diverse future nursing workforce.”

2020 National Nursing Workforce Study confirmed a lack of diversity in nursing, with over 80% of registered nurses identifying as white/caucasian. And more than one-fifth of all nurses reported plans to retire from nursing by 2025, intensifying the current nursing shortage.

The latest gift amplifies the impact VCU’s School of Nursing has on health care in Virginia and beyond. Half of currently enrolled students are nonwhite and more than 90% of graduates work in Virginia. “VCU School of Nursing is proud to graduate the largest and most diverse group of nursing professionals in Virginia,” Giddens said.

With a wave of nurse faculty retirements expected over the next decade, nursing schools cannot address the nation's nurse shortage without also creating a pipeline of educators to teach them. That is why a portion of the Conway donation is earmarked for doctoral students committed to teaching.

 “Nurses are essential,” Bill Conway said. “Joanne and I believe that, by reducing the financial burden for nursing students at VCU School of Nursing, the school will be better equipped to expand its programs to address the critical nursing shortage. When nurses face a lower debt burden, they can more easily achieve their personal and professional goals.”

“VCU is honored to be a part of the Conways’ great vision to create healthier communities through strengthening the nursing pipeline,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health. “With their latest gift, they help ensure that our School of Nursing graduates will be at the forefront of that work. At VCU, we put the needs of students and patients first, and this gift advances that important mission.”

The School of Nursing enrolls 930 students in academic programs, from entry-level practice through the doctorate, with a mission to shape the future of nursing through the power of education, discovery and collaboration. The school’s undergraduate program is ranked No. 22 in the latest U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings released earlier this month, placing it in the top 4% of all undergraduate nursing programs nationwide.