SALT LAKE CITY -- Western Governors University (www.wgu.edu) has been awarded a $725,000, three-year grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), one of the most highly respected philanthropic foundations working to make meaningful change in healthcare for all Americans. The grant will be used by the College of Health Professions at WGU to develop online nursing degree programs, including a new Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. In addition to RWJF, other major initial corporate supporters in this effort include Hospital Corporation of America, Tenet Healthcare Corporation, Kaiser Permanente, Cedars Sinai and Universal Health Systems—all large and well-known national leaders in healthcare. WGU is an accredited, online, competency-based university, created by 19 western governors to improve education access for adult learners. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, the nurse shortage in the U.S. could grow as large as one million nurses by 2020. Despite this severe projected shortage, nursing schools turn away tens of thousands of qualified students each year largely because they lack the faculty to teach them. RWJF believes that alternative educational options—such as the one that Western Governors University plans to employ—are important to explore in combating the nursing shortage. Starting in 2009, nursing students accepted into the program will complete their coursework online through WGU. The new programs aim to increase the number of nurses with baccalaureate degrees and initial licensure by attracting qualified students nationwide who otherwise would not attend nursing school. The programs will offer flexibility and be more affordable than many traditional schools, providing a unique opportunity for students in rural communities, minority students, working adults and non-traditional students. This unique competency-based model measures what students know and can do, rather than measuring the time or credit hours spent in a classroom setting. It also helps students with busy family and work lives by giving them education access online, rather than having to travel to a campus to learn. "WGU is honored that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has chosen to support our high-priority nursing initiative through the award of this grant," says WGU President Dr. Robert Mendenhall. "This important joint venture will serve those who have been denied access to nursing programs because of consistent barriers such as cost or difficulty traveling to traditional university campuses. WGU's fully online, competency-based approach should allow many students to earn their degrees and help fill the demand for qualified nurses." "We are delighted to support this innovative program," said Susan Hassmiller, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., team leader and senior program officer for the foundation's human capital team. "This new program assists our goal of ensuring that our nation has a diverse, well-trained health care workforce to meet the needs of all Americans by providing education to qualified candidates who would otherwise not attend nursing school." About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years, the foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.