Adjuncts, universities face off as Congress prepares to vote on ACA change

Full-time work week may mean at least 40 hours

Republicans, who officially took control of Congress this week, are expected to push through a change to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that many universities support, but adjunct faculty are fighting. 

The House approved last week a bill to redefine "full-time" employment under the ACA, increasing it from 30 hours per week to 40. However, President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill, saying it would only push employers to reduce hours for some workers.

In the event of a veto, it is not clear whether Republicans could win enough votes to overturn it.


The employer mandate requires businesses with more than 50 full-time employees working 30 hours or more per week to provide affordable health coverage to workers or face fines. The House approved a bill in April 2014 that would have raised the threshold, but it did not pass the Senate. But Republicans are renewing their efforts now that they have a stronger presence in Congress.

Prior to the mandate, policies varied by employer, including within the higher education industry. For example, Indiana state employees earned covered at 37.5 hours per week while Ivy Tech Community College gave them at 32 hours.

University response

Colleges and universities—along with other large employers—have praised the bill, and on Wednesday College and University Professional Association for Human Resources signed a letter of support.

Upping the part-time work week limit to under 40-hours would allow such employees to work more,  in addition to reducing the "large administrative burden" colleges face calculating employee hours, says Josh Ulman, the organization's chief government relations officer.

What the new Congressional funding bill means for higher ed

At Ivy Tech, administrators fill about half of classroom hours with adjunct professors, says President Thomas Synder. To avoid an up to $12 million fee under the ACA, the school capped adjunct course loads at nine hours per week in order to allow for preparation and grading time.

The increased part-time limit, says Snyder, would allow adjuncts to head more classes.  

Adjuncts and the White House push back

On the other side of the aisle, labor unions and the White House have criticized the measure, saying it will make it even more difficult for employees to earn benefits rights.

"Rather than embracing the spirit of the ACA to help expand health care for all working families, this unwarranted change would subvert the law’s intent to cover more Americans and close off a much-needed health insurance option," says Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers' president.

Further complicating the problem is the way adjuncts' labor is translated into working hours. The Internal Revenue Service last year issued guidelines on how to do so, but some say the calculations do not account for the entire workload (Stratford, Inside Higher Ed, 1/8; Groppe, USA Today, 1/7).

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