Direct Costs

Direct costs are those expenses which can be directly attributed to the project.

Types of direct costs include:

 

Personnel Costs

Personnel costs include those for:

 

Faculty Salary & Effort (academic and summer)

  • Proposals should accurately represent the amount of direct research effort that key personnel are committing to the project.  The amount of effort committed to a sponsored project is based on a best estimate of the actual effort required to meet the goals and outcomes of the proposed project.
  • For federally funded projects, effort for all key personnel and in particular for faculty must be budgeted minimally at 1% or greater.  This correlates to 0.09 months for academic year appointments and 0.12 for calendar year appointments.  As noted, effort should typically be budgeted substantially greater than 1% since budgeted effort should reflect the actual effort needs of the project.  For more details, see the policy statement Minimum Effort on Sponsored Projects.
  • Faculty should consult with their department chairs to determine how much time they are allowed to dedicate to research projects. Personnel effort on all ACTIVE awards plus teaching load cannot exceed 100%.  In other words, 2.5 months summer salary + committed academic year research effort (up to the maximum percentage allotted for research by your department during the academic year) + Teaching load + Outreach + other obligations = 100%.
  • Faculty academic year (AY) and summer effort should be budgeted as separate line items.
  • Show basis of effort in accordance with sponsor guidelines – this is either represented on either a “person month” basis or % of effort.  Because awarded UMass budgets get loaded utilizing a “person month” basis, this should be the default approach.  If the sponsor requires using a different basis (% or hourly for example), always provide the person month equivalence in the Budget Justification.
  • Effort charged to sponsored projects must be allocable, allowable, reasonable, and if awarded consistently reported and tracked in the UMass effort reporting system – ECRT.
  • If awarded, budgeted effort will need to be obligated and spent against the sponsor account.  And, importantly, it must be tracked in the ECRT system at a level that matches the level of effort as proposed to the sponsor unless the sponsor allows or approves a change in the level of effort. Please consult with OPAM in advance if considering rebudgeting key person effort.
  • The University must be able to provide auditable records of committed effort.  This is achieved primarily by payroll being charged to the grant at a level that aligns with the sponsor expectations for effort commitments.
  • Alternatively, when sponsors mandate cost-sharing, academic effort can be cost shared and tracked in accordance with University policy and procedures.  See Cost Sharing, Policy and Procedure.

Academic

  • As a rule of thumb, faculty can expect to maximally allocate up to approximately 3.5 academic months across their grant portfolio without opting for course buy-outs.  Consult with department chairs.
  • Budgeting academic effort is not mandatory, but if academic year effort commitments are significant for any one grant, academic effort should be budgeted.  If a significant amount of academic year effort is required, course buy-outs should be explored with the department and budgeted as academic year effort accordingly.  Do not refer to the effort as a “course buy-out” in the proposal itself – that is for internal UMass purposes only.  Use the term “academic year” effort instead.
  • If academic year effort commitments for any given project are not anticipated to be significant but rather incidental, effort does not need to be budgeted.  In these scenarios, it is assumed that other budgeted project related personnel (Graduate Research Assistants, other faculty, postdocs, etc.) are primarily carrying the project in the academic year.  If it is a federally funded project, do keep the Minimum Effort on Sponsored Projects in mind to satisfy the effort commitment requirements of that policy.
  • Unless the sponsor mandates cost-sharing, do not refer to contributions of academic year effort in any quantifiable manner.  If academic year effort is not significant, and you are not charging or cost-sharing academic effort, the following language for the budget justification would be acceptable:  “The PI will be fully involved in the project throughout the year to ensure that the scope and objectives are met.”  For more discussion on this, see Cost Share FAQs.

Summer

  • Faculty may charge up to 2.5 summer months across their sponsored projects portfolio in any given year.
  • If budgeted as summer effort, effort must be committed during the summer.  If budgeted as summer salary, effort cannot be committed during the academic year and paid out as summer effort/compensation.
  • To commit more than 2.5 summer months of effort in any given year, see Summer Effort Waiver Procedures.  Keep in mind that if 3 months of summer effort is budgeted in any given year, no non-sponsored project activities can take place during the period of compensation (no vacation, course planning, etc.)

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Faculty Compensation/Effort

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Other Project Staff

Other project staff consist of technicians, programmers, engineers, project coordinators, administrative/secretarial, etc.

  • Effort is budgeted based on actual need and as allowable by sponsor.
  • Do not cost share effort in any way whether quantifiable or not unless the sponsor mandates cost sharing.
  • Full fringe is typically required.  If non-benefitted, see Temporary Employee (need internal link here).

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Other Project Staff Compensation/Effort

  • Fact Sheet – mandated minimum salaries and fringe

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Administrative/Clerical Positions

Non-federal sponsors: Administrative/clerical costs may be budgeted at will on non-federally funded projects as long as there are no restrictions in the sponsor guidelines and funding is not also prime federal.  Be aware of federal flow downs in the guidelines.

Federal sponsors: In response to federal restrictions on the direct charging of administrative/clerical personnel to sponsored projects, UMass budgets should only include these costs when:

  • A minimum of 25% FTE (3 months) is budgeted per year
  • The position is required by the project scope, due to the project's special purpose & circumstance where the services provided go above and beyond the scope of those normally provided by administrative personnel (important:  specific examples are listed on page two of the Administrative Cost Policy.  Please review carefully and study sample secretarial justifications as well.
  • Clarification:  account monitoring, meeting arrangements, or typing general correspondence or reports on behalf of a grant/contract would be considered the normal services to be provided by the University and treated as an indirect cost; consequently they would NOT be allowed as a direct cost.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Administrative/Clerical Compensation

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Postdoctoral Research Associates, Senior Post Doctoral Research Associates

  • Salary levels vary from department to department based on market and seniority – rates not to fall below mandated minimum.
  • Postdocs cannot be Principal Investigators in their own right. Postdocs must have their faculty advisor as a Co-PI.  If sponsor guidelines do not allow for the budgeting of any faculty effort or if the program is strictly a Postdoc research grant or fellowship and specified as such in the sponsor guidelines, the faculty advisor should be listed on the IPF as a Co-PI and included in the IPF routing.  See Roles and Responsibilities of Principal Investigators/Co-investigators.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Postdoctoral Compensation and Benefits

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Graduate Research Assistants

  • Determine annual salary, fringe, and tuition charge levels using the Graduate Student Fringe and Tuition Calculator.  This calculator will reliably calculate graduate Research Assistant (RA) costs for fringe and tuition charge while also accommodating for sponsor specific Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA).
  • Print out the graduate student fringe and tuition charge calculations and load them to the IPF section of SmartGrant within “Proposal Related Documents.”  This will help OPAS confirm your calculations.
  • Be sure the Budget and the Budget Justification match these calculations.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Graduate Student Compensation and Benefits

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Undergraduate Students

  • Budget using an hourly rate – must be at least the current Commonwealth of Massachusetts minimum wage.
  • Only budget fringe on summer effort and only if not enrolled in summer classes.  See Fact Sheet for current rate (Student Summer Payroll)

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Undergraduate Student Compensation and Benefits

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Temporary Employees (03)

  • If salary is budgeted for an individual who doesn’t otherwise have an appointment nor will s/he be appointed on a permanent basis if the proposal is awarded, and this individual will be using UMass facilities to help conduct the actual research, that person qualifies as a temporary employee.
  • 6 month maximum appointment per year (50%)
  • Non-benefitted:  For non-students, classified, professional, or faculty hired below 50% time, benefits are not applicable, only the non-benefitted rate is assessed - Unemployment Compensation Insurance Premium (UI), Universal Health Insurance (UHI) contribution, and the employer share of Medicare Tax (MTX).

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Temporary Employees

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Fringe Benefits

Fringe benefits are assessed on salaries depending on appointment type and term (academic year or summer).  Fringe must be assessed against the budgeted salary at current rates.

Faculty – academic year effort:  full fringe less Sick Leave Bank

Faculty – summer effort:  only Worker’s Comp, UI, UHI, and MTX

Faculty – 12-month calendar year appointments:  full fringe less Sick Leave Bank

Benefitted staff:  full fringe

Post docs: Health insurance, Worker’s Compensation, UI, UHI, MTX and Health & Welfare

Graduate Research Assistants:  GEO Health Deferment rate, Health & Welfare, and Worker’s Compensation/UI/UHI/MTX on summer effort only

Some sponsors entirely restrict charging for fringe or put a cap on the level that can be charged.  These are rare, but in the event this requirement is in play, the difference between the amount allowed for reimbursement vs. actual fringe costs must be covered by UMass and typically that coverage will need to come from the department. Please consult with the OPAS Pre-award administrator for input.

For current rates and details, please see the Fact Sheet.

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Materials and Supplies

Material and supplies is a broad category of costs that contains all non-capital items like computers and electronic equipment as well as laboratory materials and research related supplies. The scope of work will drive what gets budgeted in this cost category. The expenses must benefit the project, as well as be specifically identifiable with the aims of the project.

Budgeted costs must be Reasonable, Allowable, and Allocable (RAA).

  • Reasonable:  basis of cost should be provided in the Budget Justification.  The cost should be based on existing costs for same or similar sponsored projects as it correlates to the needs of the project or should be based on actual quotes.  Note the basis of your cost estimate in your Budget Justification.
  • Allowable:  the sponsor must allow the budgeting of the cost.  Federal cost principles for example restrict the charging of so-called administrative/office supply costing (see below).
  • Allocable:  cost and use must be solely assignable to the sponsored project.

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Administrative/Office Supplies (federal)

Office Supplies:  this type of expense may be appropriate as a direct charge to a grant/contract only when it clearly benefits/supports programmatic objectives. Examples would include research notebooks and computer paper used during the technical course of a project. Items such as pencils, paper clips, memo pads and post-its are normally considered an indirect cost and therefore not allowable as a direct charge. Reasonable judgment should be exercised when charging office supplies directly to a grant/contract because they are likely to be highly scrutinized during sponsor proposal review or during an audit.

Postage:  the direct charging of postage to an award for purposes such as the shipment of materials, mailing of research surveys to human subjects and submitting deliverables is appropriate if reasonable care is taken to assure that such costs are for the sole purpose of the grant/contract and can be specifically identified and justified as such. Routine correspondence is considered to be an indirect cost and not an allowable direct charge.

Policies and Resources Affecting Administrative/Office Supplies (Federal)

Animal Care Costs

Animal purchases are considered technical supplies. Budget the cost to purchase laboratory animals separately from the cost of animal care.  Consult with Animal Care Services for current rates.

Computers and Electronic Equipment (Federal)

Although the Uniform Guidance indicates that computing devices need not be solely dedicated to the performance of the federal award, there is still the concept of allocability that must be addressed.  We need to confirm the allocability of the item in terms of cost vs. the benefit to the project.  The cost of the computer to the project must accrue to the budget proportionally to the expected use.  We do need to confirm that if we are budgeting the full cost of the computer that it is not in turn being used for other projects as well.

Incidental use for non-project related emails, etc. is acceptable, but if the project is charged the total cost of the computer, it is assumed that the project benefits proportionally and it is not being used on other projects.  If proportional usage is expected, then the amount budgeted must be based on some reasonable expectation of allocable use.

In summary, and other points to consider about costs for use of computers and electronic equipment:

  • They must be necessary for and provide benefit to the project: the computer must be essential for project activities.
  • They must be allowable: the computer is specifically identifiable to the grant as an "unlike circumstance.”  While the Uniform Guidance indicates that the computer does not need to be solely dedicated to the project – it can be split funded and shared with other projects – a robust justification must be provided in the budget narrative demonstrating “unlike circumstance” and thus the justification will provide very specific and robust details on how the technical and scientific nature of the project drives the need to budget computing and electronic devices.  To provide evidence of unlike circumstances, the Principal Investigator must document in the proposal that the use of the computer is beyond the normal and customary use and application of computers in the day‐to‐day operations of the laboratory
  • The items must be directly allocable: the principal use of the computer must be directly allocable to the purpose, goals, and activities of the funded projects; they can be split funded with other projects but the justification should provide a rationale for charging a proportional cost to the grant.
  • They must be reasonable: there must be an informed, prudent decision making regarding the basis of the cost, utility, and value to the project.
  • Although incidental email use is acceptable, they must be non‐personal in nature.
  • The need for the items has been included in the original proposal and completely justified as to the reason it is being included, the purpose and benefit to the project have been fully described.
  • The PI is required to evaluate and ensure that the project does not have reasonable access to other devices or equipment that can achieve the same purpose. Devices may not be purchased for reasons of convenience or preference.  Include this evaluation in the budget justification.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Electronic Devices and Computers (Federal)

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Equipment

The definition for equipment, as stated in 45 CFR Parts 74 and 92, is an article of tangible nonexpendable personal property having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5,000 or more per unit.

  • Itemize each piece of equipment listing specific brand names and associated specifications that effect costing
  • Verify in the budget justification why the equipment is needed to carry out the specific aims of the project
  • Costing must be based on vendor quotes or published catalog rates.  Do not guesstimate
  • Note dedication level in the justification – if budgeting the full cost of the equipment, the proposed project must receive the full benefit of its use.
  • If a piece of equipment benefits two or more projects, the cost should be allocated proportionately.  It is generally expected that only large equipment items should be split funded.  Provide the rationale for split funding being sure to make a direct parallel between expected proportional use and corresponding proportional cost.
  • If the sponsor indirect cost base is Modified Total Direct Cost (MTDC), equipment is exempt from indirect costs.  If it’s a Total Direct Cost (TDC) base, it is not exempt from indirect costs.

Fabricated Equipment

Fabricated Equipment is an item of capital equipment that has been constructed at UMass by UMass personnel specifically for a UMass project, as opposed to being purchased “off the shelf” from a vendor or commercial supplier. Fabricated Equipment must satisfy the Federal definition of equipment, meaning it must have a total cost of $5,000 or more, must be non-expendable and must have a useful life of one year or more.

From time-to-time for reasons of cost efficiency, timeliness of delivery, non-availability or uniqueness of a particular piece of equipment, it may be necessary or advantageous for a research project to fabricate a piece of equipment rather than purchase the item. Such Fabricated Equipment is exempt from the Indirect Cost (F&A) Rate, subject to the criteria listed in the policy guidance, “Procedure and Guidance for Fabricated Equipment Costs on Federal Research Grants and Contracts.

Read both the policy statement criteria/process and the FAQ carefully in the links provided below.

Principal Investigators should complete the fill-able Checklist and load to the "Proposal Related Documents" section of their SmartGrant proposal record.

Policies and Resources Affecting Fabricated Equipment

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Travel

Travel costs are classified as those expenses for transportation, lodging, subsistence and related items incurred by employees who are traveling on official University business related to a sponsored project.

Unless otherwise stated by the sponsor, domestic travel is considered to be travel among any of the 50 United States, its possessions and territories, and Canada.

Foreign travel is classified as travel outside the areas listed above.

Some items to consider:

  • During budget preparation, consideration should be given to expenses for attending professional meetings and conferences related to the project, field work travel and living allowances, consultation with experts, and meetings required by the sponsor.
  • Travel expenses and requests should be clearly justified and reasonable.
  • Costs should be based on historical data (previous travel) and the UMass Travel Policy, airline quotes from a travel agency, and sponsor guidelines.
  • Travel in excess of commercial coach airfare is normally non-recoverable.
  • Keep in mind, foreign travel is a restricted category by most federal agencies and requires prior approval by the sponsor.
  • When costs are charged to a federally-sponsored agreement, the use of U.S. flag carriers is required.
  • The budget justification page should include the number of trips, the purpose and relationship to the project, and the estimated costs for each trip. For foreign travel the countries to be visited and the visit dates must also be included.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Travel

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Consultants

Because the Internal Revenue Service issued findings against UMass in an audit regarding the payment of individuals as consultants rather than employees (temporary), special consideration must be taken in the appointment of consultants.

Please consider the following when budgeting:

  • A consultant lends their expertise and advice in their given field without actually "working" on the project.
  • A consultant does not conduct independent research.
  • A consultant is neither affiliated with UMass nor using its facilities.
  • A consultant does not use their home institution’s facilities to conduct any portion of their consultancy.  For example, a consultant who is also employed by another University must not use their employer’s facilities to carry out their consulting agreement.
  • A consultant must provide UMass with a letter that describes their role and indicates the number of days/weeks charged to the grant and provide daily or weekly rate.  If the letter is on their home institution’s letterhead, the consultant should email the PI or OPAS confirming that they will not be using their home institution’s facilities for any part of their proposed consultancy.
  • Intellectual property or publishing rights are not anticipated.
  • UMass and other Commonwealth of Massachusetts employees cannot be paid as consultants on UMass-sponsored projects.
  • UMass may be subjected to significant institutional tax penalties should the individual be incorrectly classified as a consultant when they are actually working on the project in a manner consistent with employer/employee relationships, or where the individual is carrying out a role that would be more consistent with a subcontractor/sub-recipient role.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Consultant Costs

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Subcontracts

Generally a subcontract or subrecipient, as compared to a consultant or fee for service vendor, is defined as an entity, often another university, who helps the grantee carry out the activities of the award by independently performing a portion of the research work using their own facilities.

Documentation needed by OPAS includes:

  • UMass subrecipient form (to be filled in by subcontractor)
  • A letter signed by the subcontractor's business official (OPAS equivalent) endorsing the work referenced in an attached statement of work and budget
  • Statement of work (subcontractor specific – does not include UMass effort)
  • Subcontractor budget, use sponsor budget forms as applicable
  • Additional sponsor forms, including certifications as applicable
  • Most federal sponsors also require biosketches from key personnel
  • Facilities/Resources statement following sponsor format.  Required by most federal sponsors and some non-federal
  • Indirect Cost Rate Agreement (if subcontractor charging indirects)
  • Sole source justification (provided at award stage)

The subcontractor's grant's office should forward the items listed above to the UMass PI well in advance of the deadline.  The UMass PI will review the subcontractor’s budget and statement of work, and if it looks in keeping with expectations, incorporate the subcontractor budget in the lead proposal.  All other items are not typically incorporated into the proposal but forwarded to OPAS for review and held on file in case of audit.

The UMass detailed budget should not blend subcontractor costs with UMass project costs. That is, two separate detailed budgets should be included.

The UMass detailed budget will include a line item each year showing Subcontractor Total Costs (inclusive of indirect costs).

Subcontract vs. standard procurement vs. consultant:  if the individual or company in question provides a service for which a flat fee is charged for the work to be done and they are not involved in the research effort but simply provide a service at a fixed fee, this transaction of services is classified as a standard procurement rather than a subcontract.

Policies and Resources Affecting Subcontracts

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Other Direct Costs

Other direct costs can be a catch all for costing that does not easily belong in any of the other major cost categories.  Often they are contracted services rather than supplies, travel, equipment or labor related.

They include such costs as:

Fee for Service Costs

A fee-for-service cost is when a vendor provides a service for a set fee according to a published rate schedule routinely charged for same or similar items to all potential customers.

  • Examples of fee-for-services have included items such as assay services, catscan services, MRI facilities use, aerial photography, etc.
  • Provide OPAS a copy of the published rate sheet by loading it to the “Proposal Related Documents” section of the IPF within SmartGrant.
  • In contrast to a subcontractor/subrecipient, the vendor would not be responsible for conducting a portion of the research but rather they simply provide a defined service for a set, published fee.
  • Fee-for-service items should be budgeted under "Other Direct Cost” and not blended with “Materials and Supplies”.
  • If the cost is a University-approved fee, the budget justification must show the facilities/service being utilized along with the actual University-approved fee per unit cost.  Load a copy of the University-approved rate sheet to the “Proposal Related Documents” section of the IPF within SmartGrant.

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Policies and Resources Affecting Fee-for-Service Costs

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Participant Support Costs

Participant support costs means direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with conferences, or training projects (2 CFR Part 200.75).

  • Costs that qualify as “participant support” are exempt from indirect costs.
  • Participant support costs are often subject to special sponsor regulations, in particular, the NSF –excerpted from the “Grant Proposal Guide”:

    “This budget category refers to costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with NSF sponsored conferences or training projects. Any additional categories of participant support costs other than those described in 2 CFR § 200.75 (such as incentives, gifts, souvenirs, t-shirts and memorabilia), must be justified in the budget justification, and such costs will be closely scrutinized by NSF. (See also GPG Chapter II.D.9) For some educational projects conducted at local school districts, however, the participants being trained are employees. In such cases, the costs must be classified as participant support if payment is made through a stipend or training allowance method. The school district must have an accounting mechanism in place (i.e., sub-account code) to differentiate between regular salary and stipend payments.”
     
  • In contrast with the NSF, NIH states that unless specifically listed as an allowable cost in the Program Announcement, NIH and other PHS agencies applicants should not budget Participant Support Costs.  Keep this in mind and note the qualifying criteria in the definition provided above from 2 CFR Part 200.75.
  • UMass requires projects to track participant support costs in a separate sub-account
  • The transfer of funds budgeted for participant support costs, as defined in the Uniform Guidance (§200.75), to other categories of expense requires sponsor approval.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Participant Support Costs

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Maintenance Contracts

Budgeted costs must be Reasonable, Allowable, and Allocable (RAA).

  • Reasonable: Basis of cost should be provided in the budget justification.  The cost should be based on existing costs for same or similar contracts, quotes, or on-line catalog prices.  Note basis in your budget justification.
  • Allocable: Cost must accrue to the budget based on benefit to the project for the covered item.  If the equipment will be used 100% on the project, 100% of the maintenance can be charged to the sponsor.   Provide a rationale for proportional usage and corresponding cost.  See Budget Justification. – within the Proposal Preparation Guide?)

If budgeting based on expected proportional use, split funding generally should not fall below a reasonable level whereby multiple investigators share the cost in a manner that would suggest the need to create a fee based account for shared equipment use.

Split funding maintenance contracts should generally only occur on large laboratory equipment, not small equipment.

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Software Licenses

Budgeted costs must be Reasonable, Allowable, and Allocable (RAA).

  • Reasonable: Basis of cost should be provided in the Budget Justification.  The cost should be based on existing costs for same or similar contracts, quotes, or on-line catalog prices.  Note basis in your Budget Justification
  • Allocable: Cost must accrue to the budget based on benefit to the project for the covered item.  Software cannot be split funded with other accounts.  The budget justification should name the software product; note that it is dedicated to the project; and provide a strong justification for why it is needed especially emphasizing what aspect of the project will benefit from its use.  The software should not be general purpose software but rather specialized in a manner that supports the specific technical aims of the project.

Do not split fund software.  It must be dedicated exclusively to the aims of the proposed project.

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Tuition Charge

A tuition charge (TC) is assessed on working Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) appointments.

  • TC is budgeted on an hourly basis during the academic year up to 760 hours per academic year (20 hrs. a week for 38 weeks as outlined in the GEO/University Contract definition of "full-time"), per GRA.  Summer effort is exempt.
  • For current rates, see the Fact Sheet
  • TC is always exempt from indirect costs.
  • If tuition is not allowed by the sponsor and that restriction is clearly noted in their guidelines, TC cost cannot be budgeted.
  • Use the Graduate Student Salary and Fringe and Tuition Calculator.

 

Policies and Resources Affecting Tuition

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Telephone Service

Toll calls are allowable if they are allocable to the project and justified in the budget justification.

Cell phones are generally not allowable due to difficulties of assuring allocability. They are however allowed in extremely unique situations.

Further guidance:

  • Explain why these devices are necessary for the performance of grant work or are necessary in order to accomplish the programmatic objectives of the project; clarify how they are for business, not personal use
  • Is there an extensive and continual need for such devices throughout the project life, rather than simply an infrequent or periodic occurrence?
  • Demonstrate that the charges are easily allocable to the grant: substantiate that the cost will be solely consumed by, and solely benefit, the sponsored agreement or can be easily allocated in some manner
  • Substantiate that these devices will be used for project work at a remote site inaccessible to normal departmental administrative support or normal phone facilities.

Charges for land lines are also not generally allowable except for extremely unique situations.  The land line must be dedicated to the project and a strong justification provided that ties back to the technical needs of the project and specific aims of the project.

Policies and Resources Affecting Telephones and Telephone Service

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