• September 2, 2014

IRS Suggests 'Reasonable' Ways of Calculating Adjuncts' Hours

The Internal Revenue Service has issued final rules on how colleges should calculate adjuncts' workloads to determine whether such faculty members are eligible for health benefits under the new law designed to expand health insurance to more Americans.

The agency said last year that colleges must "use a reasonable method" for crediting adjuncts' hours of service.

In a document released on Monday—a text of final regulations to be published in the Federal Register this week— the agency states that "one (but not the only)" reasonable method for colleges to use to tally the work of adjuncts is to say that, for every hour they spend teaching, they work an additional hour and 15 minutes outside the classroom grading papers and preparing for class.

The rules, which could be subject to further guidance, also provide a way for colleges to count other duties that adjuncts are "required" to do outside of the classroom, by calling for institutions to credit adjuncts with an hour of service per week for each hour they spend on tasks such as attending faculty meetings or holding office hours.

The agency's regulations go beyond what higher-education groups such as the American Council on Education were advocating last year—one hour of work for every hour spent teaching—as some colleges were cutting adjuncts' work hours to get them below the 30-hour-a-week threshold for employer-provided benefits.

However, the guidance offered by the IRS on Monday is likely to play out differently for some adjuncts because the circumstances under which they work can vary.

A Minimum Standard

Maria C. Maisto, president of New Faculty Majority, an adjunct-advocacy group, said via email that she had heard from unionized adjuncts who say they aren't required to go to meetings or hold office hours, so counting those tasks as part of their work hours isn't possible. For now, she said, she sees the regulations as providing a minimum standard for how adjuncts' work hours should be counted.

Although some parts of the rules aren't entirely clear, Ms. Maisto said, the IRS has still managed to draw attention to the special work circumstances of adjuncts.

"The key takeaway from this is that the IRS recognized that there is a lot of complexity to contingent faculty work," Ms. Maisto wrote. "They listened to all of us as carefully as they listened to the colleges and ACE, and they are, in their own way, doing what we recommended, which is to force a conversation about what can "reasonably" be said to constitute the appropriate amount of work done by faculty in order to provide a quality education."

David Baime, senior vice president for government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges, said his group was generally pleased with the regulations, which he said "reflect the fiscal realities facing community colleges" and the conditions under which they employ adjuncts.

Community-college leaders had been concerned that the regulations might impose "substantial additional health-care expenditures" on their campuses, Mr. Baime wrote in an email, but a preliminary analysis suggests that will not be the case. "The regulation does not appear likely to induce most colleges to make broad-based changes in their approaches to employing adjuncts," he said.

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