Participant Support Costs

While participant support is provided by a number of federal agencies and other sponsors, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has the most comprehensive policies governing the budgeting, spending and reporting of these funds. Note that NIH Kirchstein-NSRA programs do not include participant support.

Participant support costs (PSC) are defined by the Uniform Guidance in 2 CFR 200.75:

“Participant support costs means direct costs for items such as stipends or subsistence allowances, travel allowances and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants or trainees (but not employees) in connection with conferences, or training projects.”

PSC are typically incurred for projects that include an education or outreach component and are used to pay individuals who are receiving a training opportunity as part of a workshop, conference, seminar, symposia or other short-term training or information sharing activity actively funded by a sponsored award. Costs include—but are not limited to—stipends, travel allowances, subsistence allowances, and registration fees paid to or on behalf of participants (not employees). The expenses may be paid for directly or as a reimbursement made to the individual.

Participants may be students, national scholars and scientists, private sector representatives, agency personnel, teachers, and others who attend and participate in the conference, workshop, or training activity supported by a particular award. Participants perform no work or services for the project or program other than for their own benefit and are not required to deliver anything or provide any service to the University in return for these support costs. University employees cannot be participants.

These types of costs are most commonly included in NSF grants. NIH indicates that participant support costs are allowable only if specified in the Funding Opportunity Announcement.

Proposal Preparation

  • Review agency guidelines carefully to determine whether PSC can be included in the budget
  • Generally, indirect costs cannot be applied to PSC expenditures
  • Inclusion of PSC in the budget requires a detailed justification
    • Describe purpose of the costs and how they will directly benefit the project

Award Management

  •  PSC should be identified within the award
    • NSF will identify such funds specifically as PSC
    • Other agencies may use another cost category such as stipends
  • PSC must be accounted for separately from the remainder of the award budget
  • Re-budgeting from the PSC category into other categories must have prior sponsor approval
  • Any unexpended PSC are returned at award close-out – funds provided for participant support costs that are not spent cannot be rebudgeted for use in other categories unless prior written approval has been obtained from the sponsor.
  • Re-budgeting funds from other parts of the budget into participant support costs may or may not require prior approval from the sponsor, depending on the terms of the award.

PI Responsibility

The PI and the project staff should be familiar with the specific requirements set forth by the sponsor, and are expected to ensure compliance with those requirements. In addition to the financial restrictions noted above, the PI is also required to retain records detailing:

  • Criteria by which participants in the program are selected
  • Copies of applications of selected participants, with documentation as to how they meet the selection criteria
  • List of program participants and documentation of their participation in the program

Allowable Participant Support Costs

  • Stipend: A stipend is a set amount of money to be paid by Fisher directly to the participant.
  • Travel: Travel includes the costs of transportation and associated travel-related expenses and must follow sponsor guidelines as well as Fisher policies and guidelines. The sole purpose of the trip must be to participate in the project activity.
  • Subsistence Allowance: The cost of a participant’s housing and per diem expenses necessary for the individual to participate in the project may be allowed by the agency, provided these costs are reasonable and limited to the days of attendance (check funding solicitation for guidance). Participants who live in the local area are not entitled to subsistence payments, although they may participate in meals and breaks provided at the meeting or conference.
  • Fees: The costs directly associated with attending conferences, symposia, or training projects are generally allowable costs. Additionally, these fees may include laboratory fees, passport or visa fees for foreign participants, and tuition or registration fees.
  • Other: Certain other costs in support of the participant’s involvement may be allowable, such training materials or laboratory supplies. Check the funding solicitation for guidance and contact OSPFR with questions.

 Unallowable Participant Support Costs

  • Travel for project PI or staff
  • Travel for a consultant providing services to the University, project, or program
  • Conference support costs such as facility rentals or media equipment rental
  • Honoraria paid to a guest speaker or lecturer
  • Agreement with a provider for multiple training events (i.e., an ongoing contract with specific terms and conditions)
  • Travel to bring collaborators together to meet and discuss the project
  • Incentives (prizes), memorabilia or gifts

For further information on participant support costs and NSF proposals for conferences, symposia and workshops, refer to NSF’s Grant Proposal Guide, Chapter II, sections C2.g(v) and D.7, respectively. For NIH grants, participant support costs are only allowable when identified in specific FOAs; see 7.9.1 Selected Items of Cost.

August 2019
Next Review Fall 2021