As the new year began, so did many provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Among these was the new rule that employers are now required to provide all employees working over 30 hours a week with health coverage. We've heard of some employers cutting hours to avoid paying for health insurance, but most of the stories thus far have been of private companies, like Home Depot and Forever 21.
There's one employer closer to home who has followed the same tactic--Austin Community College. On January 1, a new rule came into effect that forbade adjunct professors from working more than 28 hours a week, so that they would no longer be eligible for health coverage.
Opponents of the Affordable Care Act have argued that cases like ACC show how the ACA is bad for the economy. But there's much more to the story than that. ACC's behavior speaks to the harsh realities facing a public higher education system that has seen its state funding slashed time and time again. After Governor Perry demanded community college budgets with 10% across-the-board cuts, and the Legislature passed a budget that cut funding for employee benefits, it's little wonder that ACC is struggling to make ends meet.
Read how the cuts will affect faculty and students, and what's being done about it, after the jump.
|ACC faculty learned of the change when the administration sent a memo adjuncts on November 22 that detailed the changes going into effect in Spring 2014. The memo stated that "adjunct faculty may work no more than a total of 28 hours per week," which not only cuts hours, but means ACC will no longer be required to cover their health insurance.
These cuts will have a serious impact on ACC adjuncts. In addition to the added cost of health insurance, the lost hours mean a great deal of lost income. ACC Adjunct faculty association secretary Becky Villarreal told the Austin Chronicle that the 28-hour weekly limit means "there will be adjuncts losing as much as $10,000 a year and who will be below the poverty line."
According to the Austin American-Statesman, "Of 1,961 faculty members at ACC, 1,418 are adjuncts - including 140 staff members who already receive benefits - and 543 are full time." ACC also claims that no more than 50 adjuncts currently work 30 or more hours a week. This calculation is based on a state formula that claims that teaching one class requires approximately 6 hours of work per week. However, many professors dispute this formula, contending that teaching a class requires closer to 10 hours of work per week when things like lecture preparation, grading papers, and office hours are factored in. Thus, adjuncts are often working more hours than ACC gives them credit (and pays them) for.
The November ACC memo also stated that many other staff positions would be downgraded. Hourly employees would be capped at 19 hours per week, and currently full-time positions like Learning Lab tutors would gradually be turned into part-time positions without benefits. Other community colleges and universities in Texas are also cutting adjunct hours, including Dallas Community College and St. Edward's University.
ACC spokeswoman Alexis Patterson told the Statesman that "ACC [currently] spends $14 million a year on health coverage that runs $6,000 to $10,000 a year per person," but with its current budget "extending health benefits to all is 'not a sustainable option.'" In the last round of legislative budget cuts, ACC lost about $10 million from its annual budget, enough money to cover health coverage for adjunct faculty.
Low taxes and an unwillingness to spend money on higher education is hurting community college staff and students alike. Overworked and underpaid adjuncts aren't able to do their jobs as effectively, and cutting support staff means removing valuable resources for students. As ACC adjunct professor of government David Albert wrote in the November 2013 Adjunct Faculty Association Newsletter, "The quality of education at ACC depends on having a healthy workforce that is receiving regular and proper medical treatment for themselves and their families. If we are to provide a high quality of education to the students of this community, then ACC must find a way to make sure that full-time adjuncts teaching at least three courses and working more 30 hours-a-week are insured. Otherwise, we are failing at the mission of providing justice to our employees as well as a first rate education to our students."
Some members of the ACC Board of Trustees were also left out of the decision to cut adjunct hours, and they disagree with the decision. Trustee Tim Mahoney told the Austin Chronicle that, "There are people on the board who are very disturbed about this, for a number of reasons," especially because "it was antithetical to the 'community' part of community college, especially with funding always under threat." The ACC Board of Trustees is meeting tomorrow, January 21, at 6 PM, and a discussion of adjunct faculty benefits and the Affordable Care Act are on the agenda.