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Undecided on Adjunct Hours?

August 5, 2013

Most colleges do not plan to alter their use of part-time faculty or staff members as a result of the Affordable Care Act, according to a survey being released today by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

But the survey also found that only about one-fourth of colleges have determined the criteria they will use to determine whether part-timers are working 30 hours a week, which would require that their employers provide them with health insurance under ACA. The rest of colleges are still working on determining the criteria they will use.

The results paint a picture on adjunct hours that is more in flux than many part-time professors fear is the case, as many colleges have in recent months moved to cut the number of courses or credits that adjuncts may teach.

Given that adjuncts, like tenure-track faculty members, do considerable preparation and grading work outside the classroom, colleges have been saying that if they teach more than some number of sections, they would come under the ACA, and institution officials have been saying that they can't afford to provide them with coverage. The Obama administration announced last month that it would delay the requirement -- which had been slated to take effect January 1 -- by one year. But thus far none of the colleges that announced new caps on adjunct hours have relaxed those rules in the wake of the delay. (The CUPA-HR data collection ended shortly before the one-year delay was announced.)

The cuts have been a source of great frustration to adjuncts. Colleges haven't been creating more full-time positions, but have simply said adjuncts can't work more than, for example, two courses a semester. Those who have taught three or four courses -- and had some stability associated with teaching multiple sections at a single campus -- have been scrambling to find positions elsewhere, while institutions have been pushing to hire new adjuncts to teach the sections they can't assign to those who have been teaching them.

Many of the limits on adjunct hours have come at community colleges, which made up only 15 percent of those responding to the CUPA-HR survey.

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, said she found it "striking" that so many colleges haven't figured out how to count adjunct hours, and said she hoped that they would come up with fair ways, and have "campus-wide conversations" about the use of those off the tenure-track, and how those instructors could be better supported.

CUPA-HR also found that 46 percent of colleges already offer health-care benefits to part-time faculty members who work at least 20 hours a week. A survey released last year by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, however, found that only 23 percent of adjuncts had access to health benefits through their employers. (Most of the adjuncts in that survey taught two or more courses per semester.)

Other findings in the CUPA-HR survey:

  • Of colleges that have determined the impact of ACA on the cost of their benefit plans, 60 percent expect institutional costs to increase, with the average increase being 8 percent. No respondents expected costs to decrease.
  • Getting ready for ACA, 27 percent of colleges increased the employee share of costs, while 17 percent increased the costs paid by employees for dependent coverage.
  • Seeking to improve the health of employees, 23 percent of colleges reported creating or enhancing wellness programs in advance of ACA taking effect.
  • The average premium increase in the last year was 3.25 percent for employee-only plans and 5 percent for family plans.
  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents offer health-care benefits to same-sex partners (up from 46 percent in 2009 and 40 percent in 2006).

Full survey results may be purchased from CUPA-HR.

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