The University of Houston's College of Nursing hopes to solve the growing issue of high turnover rates among nurses with a new $20 million donation announced Monday. Texas saw a decline in nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and three-years later, the state is still struggling to fill nursing positions.
The university said it plans to use the donation from Andy and Barbara Gessner to enhance education and research, and fund more scholarships and fellowships as the demand for nurses continues to rise.
The Gessners said their support for the College of Nursing was motivated by nurses they know, including their mothers, Gertrude Smith Gessner and Mildred Roberson Pottenger.
"We believe in nurses and we need more of them right now," said Andy Gessner, a graduate of 1968. "We're all going to need a nurse at some time in our lives, and there’s just not enough in the workforce or being educated for the future – the primary intent of our gift is to make more nurses available when we need them, now and in the future."
To recognize Andy and Barbara for their contribution, the college of nursing has been renamed in their honor as the Andy and Barbara Gessner School of Nursing. The gift will be used to institute three endowed professorships to attract and retain nursing scholars who specialize in healthcare innovation.
As part of the university's "$100 Million Challenge", two of the professorships will be matched one-to-one. Additional funding will bolster research, nursing education and clinical learning, scholarships, graduate student fellowships, adjunct faculty support and marketing and communications for the Gessner College of Nursing.
Barbara Gessner said they had a vision for the funding.
"Our goal is for this donation to create more nurses and goodness knows we need more nurses," she said. "Nurses impact people’s lives, nurses make the world better, and we're going to benefit from this gift – everyone is going to benefit from this gift by creating more nurses.
The University of Houston's President Renu Khator said in a statement:
"Our college of Nursing has been a leader in preparing highly skilled nurses for the workforce, and this comprehensive gift from Andy and Barbara Gessner will take it to the next level,"she said. "We are forever grateful to the Gessners for their vision, commitment and passion for nursing education so that we can educate more nurses who will make a positive impact on the lives of patients and in the healthcare industry."
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, the shortage of nurses is expected to increase from over 29,000 to more than 57,000 by 2032. A 2022 survey by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, revealed that about 100,000 registered nurses and 34,000 licensed practical and vocational nurses left the workplace in the last two years – citing the pandemic as the reason for the leave.
Despite those challenges, the Gessner College of Nursing said enrollment at the college continues to grow, by achieving a 141% enrollment increase since 2018, and expanding educational opportunities. The college has more than 375 students offering what they say is a high-quality, affordable and flexible undergraduate and graduate degree programs at its Sugar Land, Katy, and UH main campus locations.
According to UH, during the pandemic, 100% of the first-time test takers passed the nursing licensure exam – placing the college in the top 8% of nursing schools in the United States. Students from UH who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 2021, were already employed upon graduation.
"This gift will have a lasting impact on the nursing profession and our great city, state and beyond for many years to come," said Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the Gessner College of Nursing. "We will be able to attract more top faculty and students and increase our research endeavors to further the University's mission of becoming a top 50 public university – we are so grateful to the Gessners for their support and vision to address the severe nursing shortage."
Disclosure: Houston Public Media is licensed by the University of Houston. The university does not play a role in Houston Public Media’s editorial decisions. Read our statement of ethics and standards here.