Colleges look at reducing adjunct profs to under 30 hours to avoid health care costs

Mentioned back in November that a number of restaurants and hotels are thinking of cutting their staff back to 29 hours or less to avoid the upcoming requirement to provide full-scale health care to staff working 30 hours or more.

The Wall Street Journal reports in their article Health Law Pinches Colleges (behind paywall) that colleges are moving in this direction as well.

Several colleges mentioned are reducing the class load for adjunct professors so they will be working below the 30 hour cutoff this year. That means the colleges won’t have to either provide health care or pay a penalty.

The article mentions one trade association is asking the IRS for special dispensation. The article doesn’t say what the group wants, but obviously they are looking for some special treatment for community colleges.

Why the emphasis on adjunct profs?

Two reasons.

First, the university world relies very heavily on adjuncts, who typically teach one or two courses but sometimes have a full load.  The article quotes one source who says in 2009 that nationwide 70% of faculty are adjuncts.

Second, the low wages. One adjunct discussed in the article teaches a total of seven classes at several colleges. One of them is cutting him from two classes to one, which will reduce his income by about $2,000.

Let’s ponder that for a moment. Two grand for one class taught by an adjunct. Adjust that to a full load for a professor. Let’s assume a teaching load of three classes a semester with research responsibilities and five classes a semester at non-research school

That would be $12 grand a year for what would otherwise be a full load for prof with research duties ($2k/class x 3 classes/semester x 2 semesters) or $20K a year for full load without research.

I very seriously doubt there are many full profs getting paid only 12K or 20k a year. No wonder colleges use adjuncts so extensively.

What would be the dollar impact of providing health insurance?


Assume health care would only be $500 a month, which is a low assumption. That would be $6K a year. That would be a severe increase in costs when paying adjuncts $4K annually for one class a semester or even $12K a year for three classes a semester.

So providing health care for all the adjuncts could easily bust the budget of a college.

I’ll make a wild guess that a huge number of colleges will be looking at limiting the hours of their staff. 

That wasn’t the plan. It is however an unfortunate illustration of unintended consequences

If you are really, really interested in this idea, here are two articles from last weekend that extend this discussion:

Helen’s Page – Average NYU or Columbia professor: $180,000/yr

Via Media – Universities Bludgeon Adjuncts With Obamacare Loophole

3 thoughts on “Colleges look at reducing adjunct profs to under 30 hours to avoid health care costs”

  1. Jim,

    Good catch on this issue, and a really good write-up. Tenure-track (or tenured) faculty teach less than 50% of all college students. Is this a good thing? Probably not. Never-the-less, it is part of the environment.


    1. Hi Dave:

      Having a practicing professional teach as an adjunct in his or her field brings something different and valuable to the class. That is an advantage. Several other things critical to the teaching environment are lost, I’m sure.

      Several years ago, I received some informal feelers about teaching an accounting class. Compared the number of hours it would likely take to the proposed compensation. Turned out to be within a stones throw or two of minimum wage for California. Might be okay for a grad student or someone new in their profession, but not so great for someone well established in their career.


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