Graduate Student Appointments (GSAs)


A Graduate Student Appointment (GSA) provides part-time employment and tuition benefits to students pursuing their graduate degree. Funding can come from sponsored awards or other department resources. Funding from sponsored awards must comply with sponsor-specific requirements. The amount of funding and effort expended may be limited by the sponsor. Review the award and sponsor regulations for specific requirements.

These guidelines are based on federal sponsor requirements, namely the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but are applied to all GSAs, whether on federal or non-federal awards, in order to meet the federal government’s consistency requirements. See 2 CFR 200.430 Compensation - Personal services for more information.

UW uses the GSA definition developed by NIH.


Funding for a GSA is typically referred to as graduate student compensation and includes:

  • Salary for 50% effort on the award;
  • Associated fringe benefits; and
  • The allowable portion of tuition and associated fees.

Salary & Effort

The salary paid to the GSA must be in accordance with the UAW Academic Student Employees (ASEs) union contract and the department’s established salary scale.

GSAs are typically appointed at 50% full-time effort (FTE). However, they are considered full-time appointments as it is expected that a GSA will use the remainder of their effort for their academic studies. GSAs may be employed by the UW for their balance of effort, but that employment must be for activities not related to the GSA.

Graduate student salary object codes are in the 01-3X or 01-4X range.

Fringe Benefits

The associated fringe benefit rate for the salary object code must be used. See Financial Reporting's page on fringe benefit load rates for more information.


According to 2 CFR 200.466 Scholarships and student aid costs, tuition can only be provided in accordance with UW policy:

  1. Tuition for GSAs is limited to the portion of tuition and fees covered under a UW-supported tuition waiver. For more information on UW tuition waivers, see the UW Graduate School website.
  2. The GSA must expend 50% effort on the award for five out of the six pay periods in a payroll quarter.
  3. The GSA must be paid through the UW payroll system.
  4. The GSA must be enrolled in at least 10 credits.

On federal awards, tuition is not an allowable expense unless under a GSA, training grant, or fellowship.  

The object code for tuition and fees is 08-05.

NIH Limitations

NIH limits total GSA funding for salary, fringe benefits, and tuition to the NRSA zero-level postdoctoral stipend amount. If it is anticipated that the actual amount paid to a GSA will exceed the zero-level, and that amount is included in a proposal budget, NIH will reduce the amount of funding to the zero-level. However, the actual GSA compensation amount may differ.

For example, the (fictitious) zero-level stipend amount is $4,500 per month. The actual cost of the GSA is:

Monthly Salary (Annual Salary/12)


Effort @ 50%


Fringe @ 20%


Tuition (Quarterly Amount/3 Months)


Total Actual GSA Monthly Compensation


In this example, the actual cost of the GSA is $5,500 per month but the amount provided by NIH is only $4,500 per month. In this case, there are two options:

  1. The department can identify $1,000 per month in non-sponsored award funds to cover the balance of the GSA.
  2. The department can, if possible, rebudget the NIH Award. 

Rebudgeting an NIH Award

As stated above, NIH will only provide funding for up to the NRSA zero-level stipend amount. However, the actual compensation (salary, fringe, and tuition) paid to a GSA can exceed that amount as long as it is considered “reasonable” according to NIH. NIH defines “reasonable” as no more than the compensation (salary, fringe) paid to a first-year postdoc in the same discipline.

Thus, the department may rebudget the NIH award, if funds are available and the award allows for rebudgeting, to cover actual GSA costs up to the combined salary and fringe costs for a first-year postdoc. NIH will not provide additional funding to cover actual GSA costs.

Additionally, if NIH increases the zero-level amount, the department may rebudget the award to increase GSA compensation to the new amount, provided there are funds available and the award allows for rebudgeting. NIH will not provide additional funding to cover an increase in the zero-level amount.

Rebudgeting Examples

  • Example 1: the annual amount funded by NIH for a GSA is $48,000, but the department’s minimum pay for a GSA is $55,000:
    • The department determines that the NIH award allows for rebudgeting.
    • The department identifies $7,000 ($55,000 – $48,000) in the award to allocate to the GSA without impacting the objectives of the award.
    • The department rebudgets $7,000 to the GSA and charges the entire $55,000 to the NIH award.
  • Example 2: the department budgeted for and the NIH funded one GSA for $48,000. After the award is issued, the department identifies the need for another GSA:
    • The department determines that the NIH award allows for rebudgeting.
    • The department identifies $48,000 in the award to fund a second GSA without impacting the objectives of the award.
    • The department rebudgets $48,000 for the second GSA and charges $96,000 to the NIH award for two GSAs.

Steps to Determine if Rebudgeting is Allowed

  • Review the NIH award to identify requirements for rebudgeting or other restrictions on GSA funding. If the award is silent,
  • Review the Program Announcement the award was issued under. If the Program Announcement is silent on rebudgeting or other restrictions on GSA funding,
  • Review the guidelines for GSAs in Section of the NIH Grants Policy Statement (GPS).

A Note About NRSA Zero-Levels

The zero-level funding limitation can cause confusion between a GSA and a NRSA training grant or fellowship. Keep in mind that:

  • GSAs are not the same as training grants or fellowships.
  • GSAs are also different from postdocs.

NIH just uses the NRSA zero-level amount as a benchmark to set a reasonable funding level for GSAs. Some key concepts to keep in mind:

  • NIH does not want to fund a GSA at higher compensation than a postdoc doing similar research.
  • GSA compensation includes salary, fringe, and tuition. Postdoc compensation includes only salary and fringe (not tuition).
  • GSA appointments are for 50% FTE; postdoc appointments are for 100% FTE.

For more information, see NIH Grants Policy Statement (GPS) Section Graduate Student Compensation.


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