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UROP Participation Increases Despite Rise in Overhead Cost

By Frank Dabek
associate news editor

Despite an increase in overhead costs from the previous year, participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program increased during the 199596 academic year.

About 2,100 students had a UROP in the 199596 academic year, with about 1,300 of those students working for pay. In the 199495 academic year, under 1,900 students had UROPs, with fewer than 1,200 of those for pay.

Overhead costs are the funds above wages paid by sponsored researchers to employ UROPstudents. The costs are designed to cover the "real costs of research," said UROP Director Norma G. McGavern. Overhead costs are paid only by faculty conducting sponsored research.

"The space, facilities, and libraries [used by UROP students] are overhead," McGavern said. Students who are funded directly by the UROP Office are exempt from the overhead.

The 199596 rate was 56 percent, a 4 percent increase over 199495.

The overhead rate continues to increase;effective July 1, it will rise from the current rate of 59 percent to 63.5 percent.

In addition to the overhead charges, UROP employers must also pay 6.5 percent above employee wages for employee benefits. This rate was "much lower" than that paid by most employers, said UROPAdministrator Michael Bergren. UROPcan pay a lower percentage for employee benefits because of MIT's status as an academic institution. This fee, however, must be paid even by projects directly funded by the UROP Office.

Since overhead fees are also paid on employee benefits, the total added cost of employing a UROP student will be 74 percent of wages next academic year.

Participation up for 199596

McGavern could only speculate on the causes of the 199596 participation increase after a sharp drop in 199495 when overhead fees were first imposed, she said. However, the increase may be because faculty have adjusted or that more research money has become available, she said. In any case, "we're happy about it."

Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Lorna J. Gibson, seemed unaffected by the increase in overhead. "Usually I try to have - and I'm going to continue to have - one student," she said. "If I had many UROPers, it would make a difference."

Professor of Physics David E. Pritchard was also not greatly affected. "I avail myself of the research experience for undergraduates program from the [National Science Foundation] to get supplemental funds for summer UROPers. The fact that this [funding] does not require overhead is transparent to me."

UROPfunding strained

While some researchers can find funding to continue to support UROP students, the increase in overhead will strain UROP resources, McGavern said. Increased overhead will lead researchers to request more UROPfunding. "When faculty can't pay that second student, they ask us to pay."

"Our resources are tight," McGavern said. She characterized the situation as one of limited resources and high demand. "Summer will be tight," she said.

The UROP Office receives funding from MIT, endowments, income such as interest, gifts, grants, and corporate donors. "Some of our best donors are former UROPers," McGavern said.

However, McGavern "feels very optimistic about fund raising for UROP," she said. The recently created Paul E. Gray '54 Endowment for UROP is a "tremendous opportunity" to increase UROP's current $2 million endowment to the office's goal of $10 million. "In the long term, UROPlooks quite healthy."

The history of paid UROP goes back to 1973, McGavern said. It was decided then that UROP was allowed, under federal regulations, to waive the overhead fees. During renegotiations in 1994, the issue was reopened, and it was ruled that faculty must pay overhead costs.

"We inadvertently found ourselves the losers," McGavern said. It was "not the federal government's intent" to impose the charges, she said.