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UROP Overhead Waiver Vital to MIT

Starting July 1, the cost of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program will more than double because of new federal regulations regarding overhead costs. The UROP program is an integral and important part of an MIT undergraduate education, and any reduction in UROP represents a considerable cause of alarm for all present and future MIT undergraduates.

With the change in regulations, the Institute will no longer be able to waive the overhead costs of research -- along with employee benefit costs -- for UROP salaries. Overhead costs, which were waived last year on about $4.5 million in UROP salaries, include physical plant services, and library and administrative work.

With higher costs, fewer professors will be able to hire undergraduates. There will be more competition for the limited funds available, and qualified and capable students will be turned away from research positions. Professors could decide that undergraduates are too expensive to hire at all, reducing the opportunities for students to participate in research.

For many students, the UROP program has great educational value. The opportunity to do cutting-edge research as undergraduates attracts many students to MIT. For some, it is the factor that convinces them to choose MIT over other universities. Eighty percent of students hold a UROP during their academic careers. Moreover, research experience gives MIT graduates an edge over other college graduates when applying to graduate schools or searching for jobs.

In addition, some students use UROPs as work-study employment. If only credit or volunteer UROPs are available, these students may be denied a part of the MIT experience. Those who need to work for money may turn away from the UROP program altogether, hurting the students as well as MIT.

The administration should be lauded for its efforts to save UROP, but Provost Wrighton alone will probably not be able to convince the government to grant an exemption.

A coordinated effort by the students and affiliates of MIT must be made to make the government aware of the educational value of the UROP program. A change in policy regarding the waiver of overhead costs associated with UROP may have substantial results, possibly affecting more than meets the eye.

It is up to us, the MIT community as a whole, to take action by convincing the government of the importance of sustaining the current UROP program.