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The surprising announcement Tuesday that the Obama administration is delaying for one year -- until 2015 -- a key requirement of the landmark health care law could reopen discussions of the limits many colleges have been placing on adjunct hours.

A key provision in the Affordable Care Act -- which had been scheduled to take effect at the start of 2014 -- would have required large employers (a group into which almost all colleges fall) to provide health coverage for those who work at least 30 hours a week, or else to pay fines. Starting in in the fall of 2012, colleges started to limit the hours of adjuncts (many of whom aren't covered by institutions' health plans) to avoid having to provide coverage to them. College officials have said that it would be too expensive to do so.

The trend has been particularly evident at community colleges, many of which have a high degree of reliance on adjunct teaching. Many adjuncts have reported new rules on how many courses they can teach, and new efforts to define how many hours adjuncts work (beyond those in the classroom). The bottom line for many adjuncts has been to find out that they are not only not getting health insurance; they are losing sections they had hoped to teach (and that they needed to teach to balance their personal budgets).

Steven M. Bloom, director of federal relations at the American Council on Education, said Tuesday night that he did not know how colleges would respond to the extra year they now have. "It will be a surprise to them," he said.

Further, he noted that the Obama administration has yet to issue detailed guidance on the delay or on issues related to how colleges should count adjunct hours. Bloom noted that while the Internal Revenue Service issued proposed rules on adjunct hours in January, those regulations suggested only that colleges be "reasonable," and did not spell out a precise way of doing so. Bloom said that the lack of clear guidance is why "you have schools going in a lot of different directions on the issue."

Indeed, while more colleges have been cutting adjunct benefits as the months have passed, a few have found ways to add health insurance coverage for some adjuncts.

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, which advocates for adjuncts, said via e-mail that her organization had suggested a one-year delay for colleges so that they "would have time to deal with this more thoughtfully and inclusively." She said that it's now up to colleges to reconsider their recent policies, while awaiting more clarity from the IRS. She said that many colleges' definitions of adjunct hours have been "ridiculous," and that she was pleased with Tuesday's news.

"Now let's see if the colleges reinstate adjunct assignments that were lost," she said.

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