Part-Time Provision Hits Adjunct Instructors

Va: Teaching Hours Cut ‘Unintended’ Outcome Of Health Care Reform

Posted: May 4, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Back in 2007, Don Cole became a Virginia Community College System adjunct faculty member in anticipation of the future costs of sending his two children off to college.
 
He now supports their educations at Longwood University and the University of Virginia on his $33,600 salary as a part-time instructor at Blue Ridge Community College and two other schools under the VCCS, while also working as a consultant.
 
But as of Wednesday, Cole saw the income from his teaching gigs dramatically reduced because of new hour restrictions put on part-time state employees; a response to a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.
 
Under this provision of the 2010 federal health care act, which will take effect in January, anyone working more than 30 hours per week is eligible for health benefits.
 
To avoid having to offer the benefits to more state employees, Gov. Bob McDonnell directed all the state’s part-time workers, including adjunct faculty, to be working no more than 29 hours a week by the time the health care provision goes into effect.
 
VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois followed up the governor’s directive with a letter to education officials explaining what exactly the reduction in hours would mean for adjunct faculty, who are paid by classes taught, rather than by the hour.
 
DuBois’ order limits adjuncts at all 23 VCCS campuses to teaching 10 hours in both the fall and spring semesters and seven hours over the summer, for a maximum of 27 credit hours over the course of a year. Those hour changes went into effect Wednesday.
 
The federal health care act affects public and private employees, while McDonnell’s directive only applies to state employees, including those at Virginia’s public higher-education institutions.

“I think, obviously, this was an unintended consequence of this legislation and there are some very real- world circumstances facing our institutions and our adjunct instructors,” said Jeffrey Kraus, VCCS assistant vice chancellor for public relations.
 
The cuts could also affect scheduling, and therefore students, education leaders said.
 
The Internal Revenue Service is reviewing how best to credit adjuncts for their time, which, aside from hours spent in class, includes planning and grading.
 
“We’re attempting to navigate that as well as we can [while] being in compliance and honoring the folks we depend upon,” Kraus said. “It’s a tough balancing act.”
 
Cole, who teaches 48 credit hours at Blue Ridge, Piedmont Virginia and J. Sargeant Reynolds community colleges, will see his course load — and therefore his paycheck — cut in half. He now makes about $2,100 per class, or $700 per credit hour.
 
The VCCS employs more than 9,100 adjunct faculty, about a quarter of whom will be affected by the hours cut. The vast majority, according to Kraus, work other jobs in their field and only teach a small number of classes.
 
At BRCC, which employs about 125 adjuncts, the college’s rough estimate is that only 10 percent will be affected, according to Bridget Baylor, college spokeswoman.
 
“Of course, it’s a big deal for those people that are affected,” Baylor said.
 
James Madison University, Bridgewater College and Eastern Mennonite University officials said they were all aware about what working part-time employees over 29 hours meant, but had few concrete details to share Thursday about exactly how — and how many — adjuncts would be affected.
 
“Faculty don’t necessarily fit into a nice little 30- or 40-hour box, so, basically, we have to figure out what is fair to our adjunct faculty members,” said Bill Wyatt, public affairs manager for JMU.
 
Anne Keeler, Bridgewater College’s treasurer and vice president for finance, said in a statement issued through a spokesman that the college is “aware of the issue, but [hasn’t] made any decisions at this time.”
 
Marcy Engle, director of human resources at EMU, said she doesn’t see things changing much at the Harrisonburg school, which had about 100 adjunct and part-time faculty in fall 2012.
 
Anyone teaching at least 18 credit hours at EMU already receives benefits and “most” of the adjuncts at the school are teaching only one or two courses a year, Engle said.
 
“If they hit that 30 hours we’re probably more likely to place them on benefits than have them reduce their hours,” she said.
 
James Madison and BRCC officials confirmed that aside from affecting individual instructors, trimming hours taught by adjuncts would have schoolwide effects on scheduling.
 
“If you have to cut back adjunct hours then there are scheduling issues,” Wyatt said. “That’s why it’s not just a human resources issue, it’s also an academic affairs issue. We want to maintain the quality of an education we’re providing at the cost we’re providing it, but also we have to be in compliance with the law.”
 
Cole, who teaches geography, said he foresees students feeling the impacts of the cuts, too. Geography class offerings are already scarce, he said, and if other adjuncts must be brought in quickly to fill scheduling gaps, it may lead to institutions hiring less-qualified individuals.
 
“There are less classes that are going to be available for the students …  [and] you can’t replace that many adjuncts in that quick time [frame],” he said. “We’re the backbone of VCCS. …  All around it seems like there should be a better solution.”
 
Contact Emily Sharrer at 574-6286 or esharrer@dnronline.com



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