CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — A $5 million pledge to UNC-Chapel Hill will go toward supporting nursing students and developing nurse educators.

Through the Bedford Falls Foundation, Joanne and William E. Conway Jr., prominent Washington, D.C.-area philanthropists and supporters of nursing education, recently made the pledge.

The historic gift is the largest in school history to support students, and more than doubles the amount of annual scholarship funding available for the school’s baccalaureate program, UNC said in a news release Thursday.

“I am inspired by the Conways’ thoughtful and innovative approach to addressing one of the nation’s significant health care challenges through their support of nursing education,” said Kevin M. Guskiewicz, chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Nurses are vital to a compassionate health care system — we cannot do it without them — and Carolina feels keenly its responsibility to help meet the need for more nurses in our state. We are grateful for the Conways’ support and partnership in that effort.”

Structured to be paid out over five years, the gift will provide considerable partial support for up to 250 undergraduate nursing students each year and will help the school expand enrollment by up to 50 percent to help address the state’s nursing shortage, the release stated.

The gift will also fund The Conway Scholars Program, an accelerated doctoral program designed to feed the pipeline of nurse educators at a time when the U.S. faces not only a critical shortage of nurses, but a shortage of those needed to teach them.

“We are deeply grateful to the Conways for their steadfast commitment to nursing education and to the nursing profession as a whole,” said Valerie Howard, dean of the School of Nursing. “The Conways are making a Carolina Nursing education more financially accessible to more students, which will positively impact our profession and, most importantly, our students, as we continue our commitment to excellence in academic nursing here at Carolina. That is a great help as we hope to attract more of the best and brightest to our profession as either nurses or nurse educators.”

The $5 million gift to UNC-Chapel Hill is the Conways’ first to a North Carolina school, but they have committed more than $250 million to schools of nursing throughout Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania during the past decade, the release stated.

“In supporting Carolina Nursing, we seek to enable greater access to a high-quality nursing education in North Carolina and to address the critical nursing shortage both by making it more affordable to get an BSN and also by educating more educators for the next generation of BSN students,” said Bill Conway, co-founder and co-executive chairman of The Carlyle Group.