Federally-funded research proposals: Voluntary components and the interpretation of their effects on institutional resources
Pinkerton, Tonya Marie
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Nationally, American research universities have become increasingly reliant on federal funds for national recognition and to supplement decreasing state funding. Reliance on federal funding is a product of the decline of state support of institutions of higher education. The decline in state funding has led to increased competition for federal research dollars. The decline has also impacted tenure and promotion processes, leading universities to include acquisition of federal research funding as a requirement of promotion. The purpose of this study was to gain an understanding of research faculty and research administrators’ knowledge of excessive principal investigator commitments, voluntary committed cost share, and waived facilities and administrative costs of federal research grants. Increasing knowledge about the reasons of including these voluntary proposal components by proposal-submitting research faculty allows for an understanding of the basis of their decisions. It also lends insight into the practice of proposal submission and adds to the literature available on the matter. This qualitative collective case study utilized semi-structured, open-ended interviews with research faculty and research administrators at an emerging research university in the Southwestern U.S. Purposeful sampling was used to identify five research faculty and five research administrators to participate in the interviews. Data analysis was conducted using the constant comparative method consisting of open coding of information. This study is significant in that it provides awareness of the obligation and potential burden on the institution and the investigator when voluntary components are included, expands on the available literature on these topics, and provides a baseline for future studies of voluntary proposal components. The findings of this study indicated that there is a lack of knowledge of federal guidelines governing research and the implications of using voluntary proposal components within research proposals. This study’s findings also point out the need to understand the institutional burdens created by including voluntary proposal components. The discussion of findings gives a voice to the need for education among research professionals regarding the utilization of voluntary proposal components and their implications for the institution. Research personnel are an unstudied group within higher education, and this study aimed to contribute to the literature on this section of higher education stakeholders. The results of this study led to several implications for higher education practice, including that research faculty do not have an understanding of regulatory guidance or institutional burden brought on by using voluntary proposal components. The need for understanding of research practices and procedures throughout the research community of higher education institutions is another implication. Lastly, the need for buy-in and an empowering organizational structure to be in place for administrators to work with research faculty in managing and administering awards. The results of this study lead to several recommendations for higher education practice as well. The first recommendation is that institutional leaders develop a culture surrounding research at the institution including the development of policies and procedures as well as a mandatory standardized training program for the research community. The second recommendation is to promote a shadow program between the research faculty and research administrators so that each can learn the function and complexity of the entire research community. Lastly, institutions should encourage professional development and collaboration among research administrators. The recommendations presented will help facilitate institutional competitiveness, provide appropriate stewardship of federal funds based in formalized training, and provide research faculty and research administrators the tools to be individually competitive in tenure and promotion processes.