Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) officials have expressed optimism for the program for the coming year despite new federal regulations governing indirect costs.
UROP also announced that the wage rate for UROP students will rise modestly this fall. Hourly rates that have been $6.90 since 1991 will increase to $7 an hour. The new stipend will be $980 for the fall and spring terms and $3,360 next summer.
Term-time stipends are calculated roughly for a 14-week semester of 10 hours of work per week. "Although the increase is only 1.4 percent above the present rate, I hope our decision to move to $7 will send a message to students that UROP is alive and well," said UROP director Norma McGavern. "At the same time I don't think a 1.4 percent increase will be too hard on faculty. Most faculty pay students more than the going rate when they can afford it."
The average wage paid to UROP students this summer by faculty who pay with their own funds was $7.76, 10 cents less than last summer. The median wage was $7.25 an hour, the same as last year.
To meet increasing demands for limited funding available, UROP also is modifying parts of its funding process this year.
One change will affect fall proposals, with UROP imposing a strictly limited time period for student proposals that ask for UROP funds.
This fall that time period will be September 6 through September 15. Proposals from students who expect pay from their faculty supervisors may be turned in to the UROP office after September 15 and will continue to be reviewed after that date, as before. However, UROP will process no proposals for the fall term after November 15.
Other changes include a new database to improve tracking of UROP's resources and funding operations and new proposal cover sheets color-coded to semester.
Optimism for the continued viability of the program is based partly on UROP participation this summer, which turned out to be higher than anticipated, according to UROP administrator Debbie Shoap.
"Seven hundred and fifty students worked on UROP for pay," she said. "That's 300 to 400 more than we expected." In recent years between 900 and 1,000 students have participated in UROP during the summer.
The summer of 1995 was the first in which all three summer months were subject to the new federal regulations. Faculty must now pay overhead on UROP wages (58.5 percent this summer), while UROP funds and faculty funds alike must pay employee benefits of 6.5 percent. Cost sharing between faculty and UROP funds is no longer possible.
Initial predictions for summer were based upon the decline UROP experienced last fall when 315 fewer students were able to work for pay than in the previous fall. (The loss of paid research opportunities is mitigated for students during term time, when they have the option of working for academic credit.)
UROP ascribes the better-than-expected summer participation to faculty support. "UROP funds alone this summer, with no cost-sharing with faculty, would have supported no more than about 150 students," Ms. McGavern said. "This tells us that faculty members have enough investment in UROP and enthusiasm for UROP students to pay more than 600 of them, despite the overhead cost."
UROP confirmed this faculty support when it made a count of supervisors during the 1994-95 academic year that showed over 50 percent of the faculty had supervised UROP work during that period, a number consistent with previous years.
One means of increasing the range of paid UROP projects available to students is the Undergraduate Corporate Research Fellows (UCRF) program launched in late spring. It got off to a good start this summer with several projects from United Technologies Research Center, Ms. McGavern said.
The UCRF program invites corporations to sponsor academic year-long undergraduate research projects at MIT for a set fee of $9,475. Normal UROP guidelines apply to UCRF projects, and all are done under the supervision of MIT faculty. Although initial projects have been in engineering, UROP hopes to see future projects in many areas.
UROP staff members express hope that gifts and grants to the program will continue at a rate comparable to last year. The Alumni Fund Drive last fall highlighted UROP and netted some $200,000 toward UROP endowment. Aided by the Alumni Association, a UROP mailing to those donors is underway. Several other gifts last year also added substantially to endowment.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 30, 1995.