Adjunct professor Stephanie Phillips teaches a medical terminology class at Gwinnett Technical College Monday, April 7, 2014. Phillips is one of a large number of adjunct professors who could be impacted by new rules put in place due to the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare prompts changes to adjunct policies at state colleges

Georgia’s part-time college professors likely will see their hours cut as schools maneuver around a new federal health care law.

The state’s premier institutions are implementing policies that would limit hours for part-timers, often the workhorses in higher education and a source of cheap labor.

The changes come in response to a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance benefits for employees working more than 30 hours a week, or risk paying a penalty.

University system officials said Friday they also expect their 31 institutions will be forced to eventually consider whether to keep all part-time faculty or to instead give some of the work to permanent professors.

The state’s technical college system has already approved limits on its adjunct instructors, and the University System of Georgia’s policies take effect in May.

Limiting adjunct hours will mean a loss of livelihood for many adjunct professors across the state, said an adjunct instructor at an institution within the University System of Georgia who agreed to speak with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on condition of anonymity because she was unauthorized to speak.

“I know people who don’t know what they’re going to do for survival. People who have kids in college, and not only worried about that, but how they are going to meet their rent or mortgage,” she said. “The USG is telling these people basically that you don’t have our support anymore. Also, students deserve better. They deserve professors who aren’t worried about how they are going to pay next month’s rent.”

The issue began circulating around colleges more than a year ago, as institutions readied for implementation of the insurance mandate that was scheduled to take effect this year before being pushed back to 2015. Using IRS guidelines, institutions have devised formulas to calculate adjunct hours, including teaching and class preparation time.

School officials say it’s too early to determine the impact on students. But national education advocates who have studied the issue say the changes could result in fewer class offerings and possibly larger class sizes as institutions try to save money without hiring additional instructors.

“They will try to cram as many students into those classes as they can to get the most bang for their buck,” said Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, which advocates for adjuncts.

In late March, college presidents from the Technical College System of Georgia approved its formula limiting adjuncts to 29 hours of work per week, said spokesman Mike Light. The policy will be reviewed at the end of the year, and may need revising for laboratory instructors, Light said.

About two-thirds, or 4,566 of the 6,828 instructors in the technical college system are adjuncts. Before the policy change last month, the technical college system had not tracked adjunct hours, Light said.

Separately, the university college system — including the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech — will roll out its new time-tracking formula to the Board of Regents later this month. (The new guidelines do not need to be approved by the BOR, which governs the University System.) The 30-hour calculation would be cumulative, including hours worked at all University System of Georgia (USG) institutions.

“(The response) may not always be cutting hours,” said Marion Fedrick, the University System’s vice chancellor for human resources. Some colleges could decide to hire more adjuncts; hire some adjuncts working more hours as permanent faculty, making them eligible for benefits; or whether to staff more classes with permanent instructors. “There is a lot of unknown.”

Ultimately, the policy change is about ensuring that the system correctly counts employee hours to determine whether they are eligible for health insurance benefits, as is required by the federal law, Fedrick said. Right now, colleges in the system don’t track each hour of in class and out-of-class faculty work and that change will be the biggest for the USG, she said.

Most of the USG’s part-time faculty are already below the full-time, 30-hour per week designation, Fedrick said, and they do not receive health insurance.

Yvonne Wichman, president of the part-time faculty council at Kennesaw State University has already heard the concerns from her colleagues, about the possible cuts and loss of livelihood.

“All the (University System) said is that part-time faculty may not work more than a certain number of hours per week unless the institution is going to provide benefits,” Wichman said.

The American Federation of Teachers conducted a survey earlier this year of higher education institutions that have restricted the work hours for adjunct or part-time faculty in order to avoid providing health insurance.

The restriction vary. For example, Arizona State limited its temporary faculty to six credit hours per semester. Adjuncts were limited to nine hours in the Arkansas State University System. Youngstown State University in Ohio limited adjuncts to 24 instruction hours for the fall, spring and summer combined. And at Daytona State and St. Petersburg colleges in Florida, adjuncts were limited to nine hours per week.

The American Federation of Teachers union says the academic employer cuts are, “at a minimum, overreaction to the law.” Alyssa Picard, an AFT field representative who has worked on the issue, said, “this overreaction is taking teachers out of classrooms and in some cases cutting adjunct faculty members’ pay by 33 percent or more.”

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