REU Stipend Payments to UW Students on NSF and Other Sponsored Funds

Paying UW Students Stipends on NSF or other sponsored grant REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) funds can be tricky because they cannot be paid salary or wages. As participants in an educational experience, they are not working, but learning.


L&S's Research, Business, and HR offices have worked with RSP to provide the correct approach for Research/REU participant payments for UW students in L&S.  The Division of Business Services' student payment guide is the primary policy document for UW student payments, and this guidance in compliance with that policy.  Business Services hosts a Payments to Students website with additional student payment information.

First, to clear up a common misconception: NSF does not allow REU students to be paid wages.  Because of this restriction, REU students cannot be paid as student hourlies.  When we provide REU students the opportunity to participate in research activities, the stipend they receive is not a wage, but a lump sum payment to offset their living expenses while they participate in the program. They are not working on the project, and they do not get paid to work, or for putting a certain amount of time into the project.

Second, the REU funds are special.  When the funding for student participants is provided through the NSF REU program, we must treat the students as REUs and follow the NSF and UW guidelines and expectations for REU participants.  While we can pay student hourlies and other wage earners from the primary NSF project, REU funds are qualitatively different, and can only be used for REU expenses.  Non-REU expenses, including wages for students, must be posted to the primary, non-REU project.

The L&S REU Payment Process for UW Students

  • Payment requests for US citizen UW Student REU participants will be made through the Bursar's SIS system, but must be routed to Mehdi Rezai in the L&S Business office for initial review and approval before any payment can be made.
    • First, the department must indicate how the payments meet non-credit research support conditions [see top of attached "student support program in SIS" document].  These answers must be provided by the department.
    • If those conditions are met, the rest of the questionnaire must be filled out by the department.  Mehdi can answer questions about the questionnaire and the process.  He cannot provide answers for your program.
    • When complete, submit the document to Mehdi in the L&S Business Office.  After divisional approval, the request will go to the Bursar's office for review, and approval. 
    • Once the program has been approved by the Bursar’s office, Mehdi will send you the Bursar’s upload worksheet which you need to fill out and return to Mehdi for entry into the SIS system.
    • Refer to the L&S Business Office KB page on student payments, under the heading Non-Credit External Internship or Research Support Payments Review Form.
    • Up to three payments of this kind can be made per year (Fall, Spring, Summer).  This type of payment will not be applied to student debt, so the full amount will be issued to the student.
  • Payments for any nonresident alien UW Student REU participants will be made on payroll using lump-sum scholarship payments.  These should be processed through the payroll system and can be broken into up to 3 payments in a year.  Please refer to the L&S Business Office KB page on student payments.  The L&S Business Office will coordinate with the HR/payroll office for any payments that need to go through the payroll system.

Confusion about the NSF REU Guidance Language

NSF has consistently stated in their program announcements and guidance that payments to REU students are not salaries and cannot be considered employment.  They must be issued as stipends. The most recent program solicitation is copied below.

NSF REU language

Confusion arises from the sentence that mentions the use of the payroll system to issue payments to REU students, which has been mistakenly interpreted as allowing the use of student hourly wages to compensate the REU student.  However, what that statement really means is if your institution has the ability to pay stipends through its payroll system then it is permitted to use the payroll system to pay the stipend.  It does not mean that REU students can be paid wages.  UW's payroll system does not have the capability to pay stipends, so REU stipend payments at UW cannot be made through UW's payroll system.

See Also: