FARGO - North Dakota State University is seeking approval for up to a $28 million addition to Sudro Hall to enable a significant expansion of its nursing program and to bring all of its health programs under one roof.

The proposal won unanimous approval this week by the budget committee of the State Board of Higher Education, and it will be presented to the full board at its meeting Thursday, March 30.

NDSU already has raised $20 million for the project - which will help alleviate North Dakota's chronic nursing shortage - but is trying to raise an additional $8 million, which would allow a bigger building.

No state money will be used for the Sudro Hall addition, but the project would require approval from the North Dakota Legislature in the form of an amendment to the higher education funding bill. At $20 million, the addition would be about 93,000 square feet, or about 1½ times larger than Sudro.

If approved, NDSU would be able to substantially expand its nursing program, potentially to as many as 364 graduates per year. It runs nursing schools in both Fargo and Bismarck, where the university took over the former Sanford nursing program several years ago.

The program now can graduate 96 nurses a year in Fargo and 80 at its Bismarck site. The program received 185 applications and accepted 57 for the fall semester, and pre-admitted 57 for the spring semester - but had to deny 109 applicants, or 59 percent, because of a lack of capacity.

"And those are really highly qualified students," said Carla Gross, who heads the NDSU nursing program.

The expansion, part of NDSU's health care workforce development plan, is intended to address North Dakota's shortage of nurses. The North Dakota Center for Nursing last year said the state had an average of 700 nursing vacancies, and a Georgetown University report projects the shortage could mushroom to 4,430 vacancies by 2020.

"There are obviously a lot of great concerns about those numbers," said Charles Peterson, dean of NDSU's College of Health Professions. "We've developed our plan to do what we can to grow our enrollments."

Those concerns are what have driven donors to commit $20 million so far toward the project, and Peterson is optimistic the $28 million goal can be reached.

The addition will be six stories high, towering over Sudro's existing two levels above ground. It also would require additional instructional technology and nursing faculty, both in the classroom and in clinical settings, also part of NDSU's expansion plans in partnership with health providers.

"We can't expand without partnering with our clinical facilities," Gross said.

"Much of the health education is very technology-driven, especially nursing," Peterson said. For example, he said, nursing students gain hands-on experience with sophisticated training mannequins before they advance to clinical training.

Separately, also in response to the area's demand for nurses, Minnesota State University Moorhead is considering resurrecting its bachelor's program in nursing, which it was forced to eliminate several years ago because of budget pressures.

MSUM's bachelor's program in nursing admitted 35 students each year. School officials are evaluating the possibility of admitting more students if it brings back the program, said Barbara Mathees, who heads MSUM's School of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership.

"It would be nice if we could run a bigger program," she said.

The bachelor's program would be in addition to other nursing programs at MSUM, including a track that allows licensed practical nurses to become registered nurses.

David Wahlberg, MSUM's executive director of marketing and communication, said a new nursing program, if approved, would be running about 18 months after an OK is given.

"We're trying to identify the funding stream for this so that the program has long-term fiscal sustainability," he said.

Nursing executives at Sanford Health and Essentia Health would welcome the possibility of significant expansion of local nursing programs, and said they would help by expanding clinical opportunities for nursing students.

"We've always been good partners with the schools of nursing," said Roberta Young, vice president of nursing and clinical services at Sanford in Fargo.

Sanford is preparing to help some of its nurses earn master's degrees, which would make them eligible to become nursing instructors, a "grow your own" approach, said Young, who is hoping to hire 100 new nursing graduates this spring.

"We really appreciate the partnership with all the universities," she said. "It's very collaborative. It's our pipeline."

Nicole Christensen, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Essentia Health in Fargo, said Essentia has significantly expanded its clinical training slots for nursing students, as schools have expanded.

"Over the past three or four years we've gone up quite substantially in the number of clinical hours," she said. "I think the colleges in the area have worked very hard to meet that need."

NDSU nursing program highly ranked

The graduate nursing program at North Dakota State University ranked 66th in a six-way tie out of 186 schools in a new ranking by U.S. News & World Report.

NursingSchoolsAlmanac.com previously named the NDSU School of Nursing in the nation's top 30 public nursing schools and in the top four schools in the Plains states, NDSU said. The program also was designated a primary Cadet Command Nursing Center of Excellence by the Army ROTC program.