Uncertainty looms over part-time faculty as Affordable Care Act approaches

May 7, 2013

Academic institutions such as Moberly Area Community College could be affected most by the Affordable Care Act, as many of them rely greatly on part-time faculty members.
Credit KOMU News / Flickr

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide health insurance to everyone working more than 30 hours a week starting in 2014. This new regulation presents an issue in the academic world, as many adjunct faculty members across the country are having their working hours cut.

Part-time faculty, or adjuncts, are usually paid not by hour, but by the courses they teach. This creates uncertainty because so far there have been no clear guideline how to calculate the amount of time these faculty members spend working.

Community colleges across the country have been affected most, as many of them rely greatly on part-time faculty members. John Curtis is the Director of Research and Public Policy at the American Association of University Professors in Washington D.C.  

“I think that’s why we’ve seen a lot of initial reports coming out about community colleges. That’s also part of the nature of community colleges that they are close to the community and people are aware of what’s going on at their local community college, they hear about it and they are really concerned about it. ”

Curtis says that there have been reports at larger universities as well and that it seems to be spreading.
The president of Moberly Community College, Doctor Evelyn Jorgenson, says that many colleges don’t know how to interpret vague guidelines proposed by Internal Revenue Service.

“The proposed rules that were announced in January are rather vague. And so colleges are struggling to determine, what is the calculation that we use to determine the workload of adjuncts.”

The IRS guidelines say that the institutions should “use a reasonable method for crediting hours of service," suggesting that it would not be "reasonable" to count “only classroom or instruction time." Jorgenson says they are expecting some clarifications.

“There are some clarifications that need to come and as soon as we know what those are, then we will be able to develop our policies and we fully expect that some of our adjuncts will be able to receive health insurance.”

Curtis says that besides classroom time, colleges and universities should include work hours part-time faculty spend preparing, grading and meeting with students. He also says reducing class hours would make part-time faculty members feel even less protected.

“The cuts for healthcare coverage, specifically if we are talking about the Affordable Care Act, will be impacting a particular group of faculty members who are teaching several courses because otherwise they wouldn’t be near this 30-hour threshold for the healthcare coverage. And so I think the potential is that these people would feel even less supported by their institutions.”

He says that providing adjuncts with health insurance shouldn’t be a great expense in terms of university or college budgets. But even before there are clear guidelines, many colleges and universities continue to cut part-time faculty hours to avoid possible additional expenses.