NIH Town Hall Meeting on Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Tuition, Fees and Health Insurance Policies

Notice Number: NOT-OD-06-003

Key Dates
Release Date: October 12, 2005

Issued by
National Institutes of Health (NIH), (http://www.nih.gov)

The purpose of this notice is to announce that the National Institutes of Health will hold a Town Hall meeting to hear comments and insights concerning possible revisions to certain fiscal policies that govern the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards (NRSA), which comprise institutional training grants (T32 and T34s) and individual fellowships (F30, F31, F32, F33). This open public meeting will focus primarily on the funding of educational costs such as tuition, fees and health insurance provided through institutional training grants. The meeting will be held November 30, 2005 in the Natcher Conference Center , Room E1/E2 on the NIH campus in Bethesda , Maryland .

Background : NRSA programs currently support over 17,000 predoctoral and postdoctoral research training positions mostly in the nation's academic laboratories. While the budget for the NRSA programs grew smartly during the five years in which the overall appropriation for the NIH was doubled, since fiscal 2003, the last of the growth years, the appropriation for NRSA training programs has grown rather modestly. Given this reality, the NIH must re-examine aspects of its NRSA policies that may not be sustainable in a period of limited budget expansion.

The largest of the NRSA programs funds institutional training grants that use the T32 mechanism to support both pre- and post-doctoral research training. Currently, the direct cost funding of these programs is segmented into four categories: stipend, tuition/fees/health insurance (referred to collectively as tuition), travel, and training related expenses. The funding levels for three of these (stipend, travel, and training related expenses) are stipulated and controlled by NIH, although each can be adjusted as fiscal circumstances and program needs evolve. The funding for tuition, on the other hand, is not fully controlled by NIH; the funding for tuition is governed by a formula tied to the amount each institution requests for this expense. The formula provides for each T32 trainee the sum of $3,000 plus sixty percent of the requested tuition in excess of $3,000. This formula is used to determine the tuition level provided via each competing grant; that level, once established for a given competing grant, is used for the subsequent non-competing rene wal awards during the project period. This formula has been employed since fiscal 1996 and has been modified once.

During the five year growth period, the increased funding devoted to NRSA activities was used for meaningful, and long overdue, trainee stipend increases and for covering some of the escalating requests in the tuition category of training grants. However, in fiscal years 2004 and 2005, when there was limited NRSA budget growth, the requests and outlays for tuition continued to rise substantially. Barring other adjustments, the continuation of this trend in tuition growth will result in a significant annual decrease in the number of NRSA trainee positions, and to fewer programs supported by T32 training grants. Since these outcomes could have a substantial disruptive effect on biomedical research training, NIH has frozen the tuition expenses on competing rene wal s of T32 awards in fiscal 2006. (See http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-05-059.html)

Moreover, NIH training officials have decided to study various options for handling the funding of trainee tuition in the future. The goal of this effort is to find an approach that equips the agency both to adjust to budgetary challenges and to continue to provide appropriate support to institutions to help defray the educational costs of NRSA trainees. This town hall meeting is being held to gather the views of the training community on this issue.

Among the options that will be studied are the following:

  1. The current tuition formula could be applied in conjunction with a ceiling; the funds provided would be the amount dictated by the currently-used formula or the amount dictated by the ceiling, whichever is less. The magnitude of the ceiling would be based on the fiscal resources available as well as on applicable data. For the sake of discussion, those offering comments may assume the ceiling could be in the range of $16,000 to $18,000.
  2. A fixed allowance could be provided for tuition; the same allowance per trainee would be provided to each grantee institution. This approach is employed by the National Science Foundation for its graduate research fellowship program. For the sake of discussion, those offering comments may assume the allowance could be in the range of $16,000 to $18,000. The allowance could be adjusted periodically by the NIH as fiscal circumstances warranted.
  3. The current tuition formula could be retained without modification. Those offering comments may assume that under this option the number of NRSA trainees and funded training grant programs will likely experience a series of year-to-year decreases as long as the current fiscal patterns prevail.

Participation : Those who wish to attend the Town Hall meeting are invited to submit a brief statement, not to exceed two pages, summarizing views and experiences relevant to the topic of the meeting. Some of those submitting statements will be asked to make brief oral presentations at the meeting. In selecting those to make presentations and in allocating time, the organizers hope to ensure that a full range of opinions is heard and that all parts of the NRSA constituency are represented. Those not asked to present will be welcome at the meeting and will be given a brief opportunity to contribute during two “open mike” sessions. Individuals should submit their statements along with their name, affiliation, and contact information to NRSATownHall@mail.nih.gov by November 4, 2005. Individuals chosen to make presentations at the Town Hall meeting will be notified on or around November 14, 2005. Those unable to attend but who wish to provide statements are welcome to do so. All statements will be considered by NIH staff. Those who do not submit statements but wish to observe the meeting will be admitted on a space-available basis. NIH staff will present background information on NRSA tuition support at the outset of the meeting.

All individuals who wish to attend the meeting should register through the Town Hall meeting's website at HTTP://Pub.NIGMS.NIH.GOV/NRSAMEETING, available on or about October 24, 2005. The detailed schedule for the meeting, when completed, will be posted on this Web site along with any meeting updates. Participants are responsible for their own expenses associated with participating in this meeting, such as for travel.

Inquiries

Questions concerning this notice and the town hall meeting should be directed to

Dr. Warren Jones
National Institute of General Medical Sciences
National Institutes of Health
Email: jonesw@nigms.nih.gov
Phone: 301-594-3827


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