Fewer Profs? Look to Obamacare

by Jillian Kay Melchior

The Obama health law is jam-packed with side effects. Here’s another, from today’s Wall Street Journal:

The federal health-care overhaul is prompting some colleges and universities to cut the hours of adjunct professors, renewing a debate about the pay and benefits of these freelance instructors who handle a significant share of teaching at U.S. higher-education institutions.

The Affordable Care Act requires large employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or more starting in 2014, or face a penalty. The mandate is a particular challenge for colleges and universities, which increasingly rely on adjuncts to help keep costs down as states have scaled back funding for higher education.

A handful of schools, including Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania and Youngstown State University in Ohio, have curbed the number of classes that adjuncts can teach in the current spring semester to limit the schools’ exposure to the health-insurance requirement. Others are assessing whether to do so, or to begin offering health care to some adjuncts.

This is even worse with some context. College students have long complained that, as their tuition costs are rising, their quality of education is going down. Instead of adding to their teaching staff, colleges are hiring more and more expensive administrators, as the Journal has also reported. Adjuncts have mitigated this situation, but the health law will complicate matters. Already, the employer mandate will drive up the cost of full-time employees: more bad news for college affordability. Schools looking to save elsewhere are likely to cut adjuncts’ hours, keeping them part-time and thereby avoiding some fines. Bigger class sizes, coming soon.

The Journal reports some of the other possible implications:

Adjuncts long have complained about the terms of their employment, and unionization by them has steadily increased, said Richard Boris, director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education at Hunter College in New York. Some 37% of part-time, nontenured faculty are in a union, according to a survey conducted by the center between 2008 and 2012.

Some college administrators fear the fallout of the Affordable Care Act will further motivate unionization efforts, said Dan King, executive director of the American Association of University Administrators.

In the short term, Mr. King said he expects many colleges will hire more adjuncts and have each teach fewer classes. But that could make it harder for schools to find enough qualified adjuncts, he said.

Young people will already be disproportionately paying for Obamacare via higher premiums. Add this unintended consequence to the tally.

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