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Report on the Evaluation of NSF's EPSCoR Program
Preface | Executive Summary | Table of Contents
Part A: EPSCoR Program and Its Evaluation | Part B: Evaluation Findings | Part C: Policy and Program Implications

Policy and Program Implications

7. What Are the Evaluation’s Implications for EPSCoR Policy and Program Operations?

Overall the evaluation has shown a plausible case for the EPSCoR program and progress in fulfilling its mandate. The management of the EPSCoR program entails a number of strategic operational choices. The implications of the evaluation’s findings for some of these choices are discussed below.

EPSCoR Proposal Review

EPSCoR’s program design is based on excluding from further funding consideration those proposals deemed scientifically excellent. The evaluation found that NSF reviewers had problems in judging whether EPSCoR proposals considered already scientifically excellent were appropriate for EPSCoR support--and that the reviewers commingled two different definitions of “excellent”--excellent for EPSCoR and scientifically excellent.

Need for orienting reviewers of EPSCoR proposals

Thus, there is a need to clarify the EPSCoR definition of an excellent proposal and the funding decision that should accompany such ratings. Peer reviewers should receive explicit orientation, and their review comments should be continually monitored to minimize confusion between the two definitions.

Graduation from EPSCoR

When do EPSCoR states "graduate" from EPSCoR?

“Graduation” from the EPSCoR program occurs in principle when a state has become nationally competitive for academic R&D funds and thus no longer requires the extra help provided by EPSCoR resources. Although many EPSCoR clusters have subsequently become fully competitive and no longer seek EPSCoR funding, no state has yet to graduate from EPSCoR. Since the evaluation has demonstrated that the program has been successful in improving the R&D competitiveness of participating states, consideration of graduation criteria and state or university transition from EPSCoR support appears relevant.

One option is for the EPSCoR program to reassess the current eligibility of all EPSCoR states, using the current eligibility criteria. Such criteria include conditions relevant not only to eligibility but also to graduation--e.g., a state’s ranking among all states and its amount of R&D funding per academic scientist and engineer in the state. Such an assessment has not been conducted in recent years, much less on an annual or other cyclic basis.

EPSCoR’s Cluster Research Strategy

The cluster strategy has been a key operational mechanism for inducing increased research competitiveness at the faculty and institutional level. A cluster is a related group of research projects, often interdisciplinary, and awards are made to a cluster’s principal investigator as well as to the component research projects. This strategy has led to the development of laboratories or centers, and not just the recruitment of cadres of new, research-oriented faculty in a number of EPSCoR universities. The cluster strategy also has been used to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among universities and between universities and industry.

For the universities in the EPSCoR states, the cluster strategy may continue to be a more effective way of increasing research capability than the alternative strategy attempted earlier in EPSCoR’s history--involving the funding of individual researchers and single research projects. The earlier strategy proved to be counterproductive when individual researchers were later recruited away from universities in EPSCoR states. How the cluster strategy is to be continued, therefore, warrants ongoing attention.