KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The University of Tennessee College of Nursing has received its largest gift ever.

Alumna Sara Croley and her husband Ross are gifting the school $7.5 million with $5.5 million supporting the college’s building renovation and expansion and $2 million establishing the Sara Rosenbalm Croley Endowed Dean’s Chair.

“Having worked as a nurse for many years, I have cared for people during some of their most difficult moments,” Sara Croley said. “Nurses play such an important role in people’s lives. Ross and I are investing in the future of nursing in Tennessee. We hope this gift opens a door of opportunity for many more amazing nurses to enter the workforce.”

Dean Victoria Niederhauser announced the milestone gift at the college’s 11th annual NightinGala celebration on Oct. 4.

“This renovated and expanded building will provide students and faculty with an experiential learning environment that is inclusive and welcoming — that fosters collaboration and supports the growing academic and research mission of the College of Nursing,” Niederhauser said.

The building improvements will allow the college to significantly increase its enrollment.

Source: UT
Ross and Sara Croley

The current nursing building is 41 years old and 42,000 square feet. It houses 100 faculty members, 33 staff members, and more than 920 undergraduate and graduate students. Most faculty members are sharing office space, and students do not have a common area to study or interact with classmates.

The renovated and expanded building is projected to be approximately 100,000 square feet and house the college’s nationally recognized Health Innovation Technology and Simulation Laboratory, which is currently located in another building across campus.

The $60 million anticipated cost for the project will be funded through a combination of donations and state funds.

The college has had to turn away highly qualified applicants because of a lack of space and resources.

The college has enacted a five-year plan to increase its annual enrollment by about 55% — going from 800 students in 2018 to 1,250 in 2023. Keeping pace with this growth, the college also plans to increase the number of faculty and staff members.

More than 1.2 million registered nurse vacancies nationwide are expected between 2014 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Tennessee, a recent workforce projection study estimates a 40% increase in registered nurse job growth.

“The majority of our Bachelor of Science in Nursing students work in Tennessee after graduation, with an estimated 45 to 60 percent remaining in the Knoxville area,” said Niederhauser. “This investment is one that is certain to pay off for Tennessee.”