In an effort to draw more nurses to rural Minnesota to care for the elderly, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation has made a $1.9 million grant to pay for classes, internships and work bonuses to nursing students. The grant, announced Thursday by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and senior housing and services nonprofit Ecumen, runs for two years, with some of the work bonuses running longer.

The grant comes amid a huge rise in the number of elderly statewide as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement age. The number of people 65 and older will be the fastest growing population in Minnesota for the next 15 years, nearly doubling in size between 2010 and 2030 to some 1.3 million, according to Census estimates.

That aging population will find fewer rural nurses available to care for them, according to Ecumen, which said in a statement Thursday that the rural nursing workforce has been shrinking.

Starting this school year, the Cargill grant will pay for clinical rotations, internships and part-time jobs for some MnSCU nursing students at Ecumen sites around the state.

The Cargill money will also pay work bonuses for some MnSCU nursing students who go to work for Ecumen on the one-, three-, five- and 10-year anniversaries of their start date. A weeklong summer camp for high school students next summer will introduce students to jobs in health care.

The two-year program has been dubbed the Ecumen Scholars program. It's being coordinated by HealthForce Minnesota, a state-funded effort to improve health care.