Published: Dec. 4, 2015

The University of Colorado Boulder has finalized a policy on Graduate Student Compensation on NIH-funded Projects. Under the NIH limit on graduate student compensation, many CU-Boulder departments with NIH-funded projects are unable to pay Graduate Research Assistants for full time work (defined as 50% time during the academic year and 100% time during summer months) at established University rates for GRAs and are unable to provide competitive compensation to attract the best graduate students. For these departments, the full-time compensation for GRAs (wages, fringe benefits and tuition) exceeds the “reasonable” level for compensation as defined by NIH, the zero-level postdoctoral NRSA stipend.

For these reasons, CU-Boulder has the following policy on graduate student compensation on NIH funded research projects:

  • The minimum compensation level for full-time, first year postdocs on NIH funded projects at CUBoulder is the current zero-level NRSA stipend plus fringe benefits.
  • For purposes of proposal budgeting, applicable inflation rates on salary and fringe benefits are applied to establish the first year postdoc compensation level each year.
  • Postdocs are budgeted for and compensated at no less than this minimum level on all NIH funded projects.
  • NOT-OD-02-017 states “actual institutional based compensation should be requested and information justifying the requested compensation level should be provided.” As such:
    • PIs should budget actual cost for GRA compensation on proposal budgets based on established University rates regardless of any cap on GRA compensation;
    • Justification of the GRA compensation above the NIH cap must be provided in the proposal budget justification with reference to CU-Boulder’s minimum compensation level for first year postdocs on NIH funded projects.
  • NIH will only award up to the zero-level postdoc stipend for graduate student compensation.
  • PIs may rebudget NIH funds to charge up to the CU-Boulder maximum level for GRAs, based on current CU-Boulder minimum compensation level for entry-level postdocs and established rates for GRA salary for each department, fringe benefits, and tuition.
  • Graduate students appointed to NIH grants may not receive compensation in excess of the CU-Boulder minimum compensation level for entry-level postdocs. Formal rebudgeting is not necessary unless the change exceeds 25% of the total award amount.

These salary levels only apply to NIH research grants or cooperative agreements and do not apply to training and fellowship grants or projects funded by other sponsors. NIH training and fellowship grants are subject to the NRSA stipend levels without exception.

The full background, policy ang guidance and examples are in the NIH Limits on Graduate Student Compensation Policy.

Contact your department's Proposal Analyst for additional information.