Initial Publication Date: April 10, 2020

Capitalize on initial investment

This page was developed by Lisa Limeri (University of Georgia) and Kara Rogers (University of Texas Austin).

CUREs are often initiated with support from a single source of funding such as a grant from the National Science Foundation or pilot funding from administration. These sources are typically not sufficient to fully support the CURE on a continuing basis, so it is critical that CUREs find ways to expand and diversify their funding sources as they grow. Programs in CUREnet have identified various avenues for sustained funding. Depending on the context of the CURE and institution(s), programs have had success in combinations of some or all of these funding and support avenues. A general trend is a shift towards diverse sources so that sustainability of the CURE is not reliant on a single source.

An important piece in establishing continued funding is effectively marketing the CURE by communicating the benefits to stakeholders, funding agencies, and institutional administration.

Examples of CURE Funding Strategies »

Keep costs low

Whenever possible, keeping per-student costs minimal will make it easier to support the CURE in the long term and to justify additional investments by maximizing the impact of funding. This proactive approach can help lower the barrier to continuing a CURE after a grant or other funding ends. In many cases, running a CURE can be less expensive than a corresponding "traditional" lab course! Modular CURE curricula can also allow users to pick and choose portions of the activities that best fit in their financial constraints.

The Cell Biology Education Consortium modules relied less on pre-packaged company "kits" for the work, which were common in traditional labs. These kits often carry high costs, which can be reduced when replaced with materials bought in bulk for research.

Some fields of research or other methods of implementation are inherently less costly. For example, research that makes use of web-based data collection (e.g., online surveys), computational approaches (e.g., bioinformatics), low-cost model organisms, and pre-existing, freely available datasets can help keep costs low.

BASIL and GEP rely on bioinformatic software and tools for their CUREs. These resources can be accessed from anywhere, and in many cases are either free or can be accessed through site software licenses.

CUREs can be designed to capitalize on materials and equipment that the institution already possesses. For example, the Cell Biology Education Consortium, BASIL, and PARE were all designed to use common lab equipment. At high research activity institutions, CUREs can be integrated into pre-existing research labs and take advantage of pre-existing research infrastructure.

In the SIRIUS program at Sacramento State, a design mandate of new CUREs is that they can fit within the department's existing operational budget. This requirement sets a financial standard for development of any new CURE.
VIP teams are integrated into faculty member's research labs and utilize their funds and existing infrastructure. Involving teams of undergraduates in research can also be a strategy for broadening the impact of faculty research, which is a requirement of some funding agencies.

Keep instructional costs low by involving students who have completed the CURE previously serve as peer educators or mentors. Sometimes this meets credit requirements for independent study, experiential learning, or teaching practicums that not only keep costs low but return added benefits for the students. Other benefits to peers include being able to continue their research and develop leadership and mentoring skills. This is a common strategy that has been implemented by many CUREs.

The Freshman Research Initiative at UT Austin operates under a Peer Mentor model, where students who have completed the standard two-semester curriculum continue by serving as peer instructors for one or more semesters. This strategy has been key to scaling up one-on-one research interactions with large CURE cohorts, in that peer mentors who have already experienced the course and are familiar with the research can collaborate in the instruction and advising for new students. These continuing students perhaps see the most gains of any in the FRI program.
The Cell Biology Education Consortium recruits outstanding students in the course to become peer instructors in future semesters.

Integrate into institutional budget

Costs associated with traditional or inquiry-based labs may be re-appropriated to support the CURE. A benefit of this approach is that these costs are built into the standard operating budget of the institution and thus can be more stable over time. There is huge variety in the ways that institutions fund their lab courses, so the way this can be implemented will vary across institutions. CURE leadership will need to investigate how their particular institution funds lab courses to figure out how to best integrate a CURE into the budget.

If courses are integrated into the curriculum so that they fulfill students' degree requirements, instructional costs associated with them can be covered by the institution's standard operating budget.

Freshman Research Initiative courses fulfill common degree requirements. Since these are costs the institution would incur as normal operating costs of students fulfilling their degrees, the instructional costs of the course are part of the institution's instructional budget. FRI operates at such a large scale that these courses relieved strain on STEM departments, which were struggling to provide enough seats for many majors taking introductory STEM courses.
The VIP program at Boise State redirects tuition money for credit hours to support the CURE.

Another option is to redirect costs associated with traditional labs to support CURE costs. This works especially well if the CURE was designed to keep costs low. Traditional labs are not free, and, depending on the design, CUREs can cost a similar amount or even less.

For SIRIUS, Sacramento State implemented a small increase in lab fees in some of their courses, but this increase was offset by the elimination of the lab manual cost, so that students did not end up having to pay more money overall.
The Cell Biology Education Consortium has used funds already allocated for the purchases of supplies for specific classes and redirected toward their CUREs. Additionally, they were able to purchase materials in bulk at a reduced rate and share costs between research and class budgets.

When there is strong buy-in from administration, they may set aside funds to support the CURE through other financial mechanisms.

VIP at Georgia Tech has an endowed chair providing course release for the director and funding for a staff member to support administrative functions.
At UT Austin, the College of Natural Sciences has committed to supporting a portion of the administrative expenses from the FRI program every year.

Fundraising & development priority

When administrators support the CURE effort, they can make it a priority in the institution's fundraising and development goals. Some CUREs have been supported by setting up or redirecting an existing endowment.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, the VIP program was supported when the Associate Dean (who was also a VIP team leader) identified an existing endowment that aligned well with VIP and was not dedicated to any specific program. He suggested a repurposing of the grant to support VIP, and the donors strongly supported it. The endowment now provides $10,000 in start-up funding to each new VIP team.

Another option is to fundraise from institutional donors for the CURE program. This strategy requires strong coordination among administrators, the CURE leadership, and development personnel to align goals and strategize to identify and market to potential donors. One strategy could be to create a menu of funding options that appeal to donors with different capacities. It may also be advisable to generate a wishlist so that "asks" are ready when a funding opportunity presents itself.

Faculty engaging with BASIL have spearheaded publicity campaigns on institutional websites and alumni magazines. Increasing visibility can make the programs a more likely funding opportunity.
Sacramento State frequently holds up the SIRIUS project as an example of the innovative projects happening at Sacramento State in their communications to donors and at fundraising events.

Corporate partnership

When goals of the CURE align with goals of corporations, mutually-beneficial partnerships can be formed. CUREs can solicit donations from relevant industry partners who will gain exposure to future potential business and employees.

The Prevalence of Antibiotic Resistance in the Environment program partnered with a business that develops and sells molecular biology reagents and equipment. The business benefits from exposure for their products to the next generation of scientists. The CURE gains supplies and scientific expertise to help develop the research modules and goals.

Industry-CURE partnerships can also result in research collaborations where corporations can benefit from data-sharing. When pursuing this option, CURE leadership will need to carefully consider intellectual property ownership.

One FRI research stream is partnered with ConocoPhillips. The corporation financially supports the CURE, which generates results that benefit the corporation.

An additional benefit is the alignment of valued skills and expertise and training. That is, students in the CURE are trained with marketable skills and expertise. In turn, corporations have a larger pool of well-qualified, trained scientists nearby.

Some corporate sponsors donate to VIP programs from their recruiting funds because the VIP research trains students in skills and expertise that the corporation is looking to recruit.

Continued pursuit of extramural funding

Repeatedly applying for grant funding requires continuous innovation and enhancements to justify continued funding. A benefit of this is that it motivates continuous improvement and innovation.

SIRIUS has applied for repeated rounds of funding, each one associated with an expansion or change to the program. The initial focus was on funding faculty professional development in order to change the curriculum across the biology department. The focus then shifted to funds to support instruments and reagents. The subsequent award was made to expand SIRIUS to three additional departments. They are now in the process of submitting another grant to expand further on campus at Sacramento State and also expand to other, nearby two-year institutions that provide the largest number of transfer students to Sacramento State.

However, a downside of this approach is that it can be challenging to perpetually depend on extramural funding. This can place the program at risk if the proposal is not funded or if the granting agency discontinues supporting that type of program. One strategy to mitigate these risks is to move towards distributed grant funding. That is, instead of pursing single large grants, pursue multiple smaller grants to support pieces of the CURE initiative.

In the VIP program, individual faculty support parts of the research through their research grants (e.g., meeting the National Science Foundation broader impacts review criterion). The implementation of a CURE can be leveraged in an incredibly meaningful way to provide additional opportunities to faculty at the institution.

Other means to support multi-institution efforts

If a CURE grows to many institutions, the home institution may be less willing or able to support a large, multi-institutional effort or it may make more sense to distribute support amongst the sites. Some CURE organizers are finding creative solutions to the multi-institution problem. Two CUREs (GEP and VIP) within CUREnet are beginning to secure non-profit 501c3 status. This will open up new potential avenues for securing funding, including crowd-source methods such as Kickstarter campaigns.

VIP is currently pursuing 501c3 status. They have submitted the application and are awaiting a decision.
The GEP is considering pursuing 501c3 status in the near future. They are currently working to access legal expertise and find a legal partner who can facilitate this process.