Colleges watching for rules under health-care law
CHAMPAIGN — As businesses prepare for more provisions of the Affordable Care Act to take effect, higher education, and community colleges in particular, face unique challenges because of their dependence on part-time employees.
Many institutions are still weighing their options on how to proceed as they await more details from the federal government, but this spring Parkland College in Champaign has moved to cut down on the number of people working dual, part-time positions and informed part-time, non-teaching employees they must not work more than 27.5 hours a week. At Danville Area Community College, administrators said they will be paying close attention to the number of hours part-time workers put in, while also planning for a 9 percent tuition increase. Facing budget pressures, Danville also recently considered (and ended up delaying) suspending some sports programs.
As outlined in the federal legislation, major employers (essentially those with at least 50 employees) are required to provide health insurance beginning in 2014 to anyone who works more than 30 hours a week; otherwise they may face fines.
For "time-clock" operations like retailers or restaurants, determining which employees will be eligible to participate in health insurance plans shouldn't pose too much of a challenge, said Chris Randles, chief financial officer at Parkland College. But for colleges where part-time faculty play a major role in providing instruction and where part-time coaches recruit and coach sports teams, "how do you measure prepping for classes or meeting with students?"
"We're not an 8-to-5 operation," Randles said.
Randles and other administrators are trying to get a grip on the rules. The Internal Revenue Service, which will oversee aspects of the health care law, issued some proposed rules, solicited comments and held a public hearing earlier this spring. The agency also may release further guidance this summer. Until then, the IRS has advised employers to use a "reasonable method" for determining an employee's hours. For example, it would not be reasonable to take into account only classroom hours and exclude class preparation time for an adjunct faculty member, according to the IRS.
Parkland is home to several unions, including one for part-time faculty and another for office support staff union, meaning benefits can vary slightly by contract. But generally, to receive health care at Parkland, employees currently must work a traditional 40-hour week. That is also the case at Danville Area Community College. At the University of Illinois, where employees are considered state employees, they must work 37.5 hours a week to be eligible.
Just how many people at Parkland or UI work somewhere between 30 and 40 hours a week, and thus could become eligible for health insurance, is not yet known, administrators at those institutions said.
Danville's chief financial officer, Tammy Clark-Bettancourt, estimated an additional nine "continuing" (or non-teaching) employees, including two coaches, will qualify for health insurance because they work between 30 and 40 hours a week. She said the college will extend health insurance to them. Currently DACC has about 185 in its health plan.
On a statewide basis, about 50 percent of the instruction offered at community colleges is provided by part-time faculty, according to Mike Monahan, executive director of the Illinois Community Colleges Trustees Association.
"That makes it something that impacts us perhaps a little differently from the universities," Monahan said.
The issue is, for part-time instructors who are typically paid by the course or credit hour, how do you define 30 hours in a work week?
"What constitutes 30 hours? What kind of teaching load equates to a 30-hour work week? The definition of that is kind of where the crux of the issue lies," Monahan said.
"At this point with regard to the Affordable Care Act, there's probably more questions than answers," he added.
Earlier this spring the American Council of Education submitted, on behalf of the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of American Universities and other national education groups, suggestions to the IRS for how colleges can classify or measure hours worked by adjunct faculty.
The organization suggested if the course load of an instructor meets or exceeds three quarters of the course load of a full-time, non-tenure track instructor in the department, the employee should be considered full-time. The organization also proposed, for determining total hours worked by adjunct faculty, a ratio of one-to-one for outside classroom work to teaching hours. The organization also urged institutions adopt a "uniform definition of full-time non-tenure track teaching faculty member for each department.
University of Illinois spokesman Tom Hardy said the UI will follow Affordable Care Act rules for determining full-time status of "variable hour employees" by implementing what's being called a "standard measurement period" and by calculating how many hours educational employees work.
"Best practices for crediting hours under (the Affordable Care Act) for part-time faculty are being evaluated," he said. No decision or specific, university-wide approach or policy has been written yet, he said.
There are 39 community college districts in Illinois, Monahan said, and there will likely be 39 different ways for dealing with this issue.
"There's probably no standard now, except to say many are in fact waiting for something more definitive in terms of rules from the IRS," Monahan said.
No information about what or when additional guidance on the matter may be issued is currently available, according to IRS spokesman Michael Devine.
"When (community college boards) have more information, they'll make decisions that impact the uniqueness of their particular community college," Monahan said. "A decision Parkland might make might be different from what Danville makes," Monahan said.
At Parkland College, administrators have made some decisions so far, including curbing the number of dual, part-time positions and requiring certain employees to request supervisor approval before working more than 19 or 27.5 hours in a week. In a memo sent to employees earlier this spring, Parkland Human Resources Director Kathleen Charleston told employees that the act has "redefined what is considered a full-time employee."
"In order for the college to better plan and budget for these potential effects, the college will continue to use its annual planning process for planning, budgeting, and approving new benefit-eligible positions." Among the changes: part-time, non-teaching employees may not work more than 27.5 hours a week; employees who work two part-time positions, such as teaching a class or two as a part-time faculty member and working in an office for about 10 or 20 hours a week, will no longer be allowed to do so depending on their union status; part-time support staff who work less than 27.5 hours a week need approval to work more than their regular weekly work schedule; and more.
Randles pointed out that some colleges have tried to limit part-time faculty hours when they can, "which Parkland has not done."
At Parkland, part-time faculty make up almost 70 percent of the instructors. There are 400 part-time faculty members and 180 full-time faculty.
An estimated 66 part-time faculty have dual jobs and that number can fluctuate each semester, according to LeeAnne Byers, president of Parkland's Part Time Faculty Organization. If both jobs are covered by a union contract, the employee can keep both positions and will be offered insurance if they work 30 or more hours a week, according to Byers. If one more both positions are not covered by a contract, the possibility exists that faculty may be able to keep both positions depending on the number of hours being taught as long as the two jobs don't exceed 30 hours a week on average, she added.
"It is not known at this point if these faculty will get to keep both positions yet. The unknowns for this are the length of the reporting period for number of hours worked, how to convert ECH (equated contact hours, which is based on time spent in the classroom) to number of actual work hours, and how the hours would be tracked by payrooll and HR in order to keep under 30 a week," Byers said in an e-mail to The News-Gazette.
Byers said the part-time faculty union is currently working with Parkland's administration on how to convert "equated contact hours" to the actual number of hours worked in a week. After that is figured, they should know more about how many part-time faculty should be offered health insurance.
Danville Area Community College President Alice Jacobs said the college will be paying close attention to the number of hours and dual part-time positions held by employees.
"Just as we will be paying more close attention to the guidelines (for part-time faculty) ... we also will pay close attention that people are not working multiple jobs which brings them over the 30 hours," Jacobs said.