Colleges cut adjuncts’ hours to duck Obamacare

More colleges are limiting adjuncts’ work hours to avoid Obamacare’s insurance mandates, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Allison G. Armentrout, an adjunct instructor at Stark State College, an Ohio community college, earns $4,600 to teach two English composition courses. Though she’s not paid by the hour, she tracks her work hours to show she’s not working 30 hours a week.

On a recent week, she spent three hours preparing for her lectures, close to six hours in the classroom, and 16 more grading assignments for a grand total of about 25 hours. So she can breathe a sigh of relief because she won’t lose her job: She came in under the college’s new 29-hour-a-week wire designed to keep her ineligible for health-care coverage under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Twice this semester, she’s undercounted her work hours to stay under the limit, says Armentrout.

Colleges in Ohio, Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania have told adjuncts to keep their hours down, reports the Chronicle.

The Community College of Allegheny County reduced the workload limit for its adjuncts from 12 to 10 credits per semester. affecting about 400 part-time employees. Providing health benefits would cost at least $6 million, which would be “simply unaffordable,” said David Hoovler, executive assistant to the president. However, the college gave all its part-time employees a small raise and is trying to form a group health plan to offer part-timers discounted insurance rates.

IRS: Adjunct work hours include prep time

Colleges must provide health benefits to adjuncts who work 30+ hours per week under Obamacare, which starts in 2014. Work hours include prep time, not just classroom teaching, the Internal Revenue Service advises.

. . . colleges must “use a reasonable method for crediting hours of service,” the IRS document says. In the case of an adjunct faculty member, the document adds, it would not be a reasonable method of calculating an instructor’s work hours for colleges to take into account “only classroom or instruction time and not other hours that are necessary to perform the employee’s duties, such as class-preparation time.”

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national advocacy group for adjuncts,  told the Chronicle of Higher Education that “the IRS is on the right track.”

Youngstown State University, Stark State College (Ohio) and the Community College of Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) have cut adjuncts’ hours to keep them below the 30-hour-a-week threshold.

Colleges get completion grants

The Gates Foundation‘s Completion by Design grants will help community colleges in Texas, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina develop programs to raise graduation rates.

Lone Star College will lead the Texas effort, reports the Houston Chronicle.  Only 12 percent of Texas community college students complete a credential in three years and 30 percent within six years, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

More than half of college students in Texas — and 71 percent of Hispanics — attend community college.

“We really see higher education as … a way to end the cycle of poverty,” said Suzanne Walsh, senior program officer for post-secondary success with the Gates Foundation.

She said research shows low-income students who haven’t earned a degree or certificate by age 26 are unlikely to ever escape poverty.

Lone Star will work with El Paso Community College, Dallas County Community College, Alamo Community College and South Texas College. Together the colleges serve a third of all community college students in Texas.

In Ohio, Stark State College will take the lead, working with Sinclair and Lorain County colleges.

Guildford Technical Community College will lead North Carolina’s completion campaign, working with Central Piedmont Community College, Davidson County Community College, Martin Community College and Wake Technical Community College.

Miami Dade College, which graduates more Hispanic students than any other community college, also won a completion grant.