Assistantships vs Fellowships

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When developing sponsored budgets, careful consideration should be taken to properly categorize employees as graduate research assistants or fellows. Proper categorization impacts  fringe benefits, tuition remission, and allowable costs for each and ensures that students receive the Institutional benefits to which they are entitled.

Assistantships provide salaries for specific work to be conducted. At CSU, Graduate Research Assistants (GRAs) are often funded by a grant, cooperative agreement, or contract whereas Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) and Graduate Service Assistants (GSAs) are typically funded by the Institution. Students on assistantships are employees of CSU and their work is tied to their discipline or a particular line of research. Work on an assistantship primarily benefits the project and/or the Institution.

GRAs on sponsored projects should be budgeted under ‘Personnel’ and an appropriate fringe benefit rate should be included. Remission of base tuition is considered a fringe benefit, though it does not cover a college’s Graduate Differential Tuition. Some colleges, such as Engineering, and Business, as well as inter-disciplinary programs such as the School of Advanced Materials Discover (SAMD), Graduate Degree Program in Ecology (GDPE), and Cell and Molecular Biology, provide Differential Tuition for all graduate assistants. For these units, differential tuition may be budgeted (and charged) on a sponsored project.

General fees such as technology charges, transportation fees, and special course fees are not provided to graduate assistants and should not be budgeted on or charged to a sponsored project.

A contribution to health insurance is provided by the Graduate School during fall and spring semesters for graduate assistants who meet all of the following criteria:

  • Appointed to a 25% (10 hours per week) or more assistantship (GTA, GRA, GSA, GRAPreDoc Fellowship) by the end of the regular add/drop period in either fall or spring semester or both
  • Enrolled in CSU’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), not applicable to any other insurance plan
  • Enrolled in 5 or more resident-instruction credits (Audits, Continuous Registration, and CSU Online Credits* do not meet the Resident Instruction enrollment criteria for this policy)

Fellowships provide financial support for an individual’s pursuit of learning, whether in the classroom or in tandem with a project. Unlike GRAs, Fellows are not considered CSU employees and are compensated via stipends rather than wages. Depending on the fellowship terms and conditions, fellowships may include additional funds to pay for textbooks, housing, tuition (including out-of-state, international, and differential tuition), travel, insurance, or other costs related to education and/or training in a particular area.

Fellowships may or may not include a service component; may go directly to an individual or through the Institution, and may or may not have deliverables. Training on a fellowship primarily benefits the Fellow.

Funds for Fellows should be budgeted according to sponsor guidance. Stipend levels, institutional allowances, and training-related expenses are set by the sponsor. Consult the award terms and conditions for allowability.

For additional guidance on fellowships by sponsor type, consult the new ‘Fellowship Guidance’ on the OSP Guidance webpage.


Blog post by Tricia Callahan, David Schmidt, and Kim Melville-Smith, Office of Sponsored Programs