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Training Grants at Biostatistics: Effects of New Tuition Rules

By Rebecca S. Gelman, Ph.D.

Panic in the Department Office! Angst among the students! Anxiety and depression among the faculty! Recent changes in rules on training grant reimbursements have caused us to scurry around searching for student funding for next year, and will probably alter the number and types of supported students in future years.

The Department of Biostatistics has four federal training grants: one in cancer (from NCI), one in environment (from NIEHS), one in psychiatric problems (from NIMH), and one in AIDS (from NIAID). The first two were resubmitted this year, and we are awaiting award statements. However, even if the same number of positions are awarded we may have trouble using them because of the tuition reimbursement rules. The training grants used to pay 100% of tuition and fees. In 1995 it was announced that all grants competing this year (and in the future) will pay the first $2000 of tuition and fees and only 60% of the remaining charges. Recently, all 4 agencies sponsored the Biostatistics training grants have announcement that they will follow similar rules (paying either 60% or 70% of charges over $2000) for currently funded grants, not just new ones.

What is the effect on our department? In the past, training grants have been used almost exclusively for first and second year students. Last year, the 24 predoctoral students supported on the training grants included on third year student and 5 fourth year students. In future years, training grants will probably be used for proportionally more upperclass students, since 40% of their tuition and fees is a smaller amount of money. Last year, the training grants paid 86% of the tuition and fees of the 24 students, leaving the department to raise 14% from non-federal funds (a total of about $54,000; about a third was obtained from the School of Public Health and two-thirds from other sources, such as drug companies). If the same number of students at the same years were supported next year, the training grants would pay 68% of the tuition and fees, leaving the department to find $133,500 from other sources.

Where will we obtain the needed money? The answer may involve supporting fewer non-training grant students. Last year, 21 students obtained half or full support for tuition from non-training grant sources. However, since most of this money came from federal grants, it would be difficult to use it to supplement the training grants. Are you at a university facing a similar problem? Write and tell us how you solved it. Or write to commiserate. Either way, we will be glad to hear from you.