12/13/2012 06:08 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2013

Legislators Could Use Obamacare to Cure Higher Ed Administrative Bloat

One college president told the local newspaper that his college was lowering the number of hours per week adjunct faculty could teach from 30 to 29 for a single reason: to skirt the new federal regulations that are associated with the 2014 full-scale implementation of Obamacare. The college president said his institution couldn't afford the $6 million dollars it would be forced to pay to provide health insurance to its 200 adjunct faculty. So, the administration has decided to cut the number of hours adjuncts may teach to under 30 hours per week and then hire more adjuncts to cover the remaining course.

Youngstown State University in eastern Ohio, told faculty in November that it is restricting its 813 part-time employees, including adjunct professors and lecturers, to 29 hours a week or fewer. Under the Affordable Care Act, the university will have to provide health insurance to full-time employees, classified as anyone working 30 hours or more per week. According to an email sent to English department employees, faculty who violate the new hourly limit would not be employed the following year:

It's crucial that you be vigilant about this cap as you consider additional teaching or tutoring assignments. If you exceed the maximum hours, YSU will not employ you the following year. We will have no recourse.If you teach or work in another department part-time, it will be the TOTAL number of hours. If you teach in American Studies for six hours, you can teach a maximum of twelve semester-hours here over a year. If you work as a tutor, those hours are also important. Same issue: you cannot go beyond twenty-nine work hours a week.

YSU was the second public university to limit employees' hours to avoid paying for health insurance. The Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh has the dubious honor of being the first public university in the United States to announce that it will cut the hours of some 200 part-time instructors to avoid Obamacare requirements. Like YSU, CCAC officials blamed cuts in state funding and other financial constraints as reasons why it couldn't afford the coverage.

In its 2013 adopted budget, YSU expects to spend $34 million on its full-time faculty and just $9.3 million on salaries for its temporary faculty. The line item for part-time faculty is $4.4 million, or about $5,400 per faculty member per year. Conversely, the college will spend $85,000 per full-time faculty member per year on its 400 regular professors. At YSU, the college will spend $36.4 million on staff salaries, or $2 million dollars more than the college spends on full-time faculty compensation. There are over 1,100 YSU staff members, the bulk of whom are full-time and enjoy benefits such as health care.

While it's possible to argue that Obamacare is an unfunded mandate, it's not possible to overlook the fact that administrative bloat is sinking higher education. At YSU, according to the 2013 proposed budget, as of May 12, 2012 there were 74 unfilled staff positions that resulted in a savings of $5.4 million dollars. According to a recent piece about the rise in administrative bloat in higher education published, on average colleges have 60 percent more administrative staff than they did in 1993. In 1993, Did Youngstown State University  have 60 percent fewer students? No. In 1993, according to enrollment data compiled by the college, YSU enrolled 14,501 students (the college enrolled 14,541 students in 2011, down from 15,194 in 2010). Since becoming state-assisted in 1967, YSU has never enrolled more than 15,898 students (1976).

The reason, then, YSU can't "afford" to fund health care for its adjunct faculty is not due to a huge cut in public funding. According to the school's 2013 budget, public funding from the state was down 2.8 percent, or under $2 million dollars in 2012. YSU administrators claimed their financial woes were the result of a drop in enrollment. However, again according to the college's own 2013 budget, a 3.5 percent tuition hike in 2012 meant that YSU took in more in tuition than it did in 2011, when there were more students enrolled. The reason YSU officials want to avoid complying with the rules governing Obamacare, is that there are 1,100 administrators, or 1 administrator for every 14 students. At the college, there is 1 full-time faculty member for every 34.5 students.

What if YSU cut 40 percent of its administrators? It would save in the neighborhood of $14.4 million dollars in 2013 alone, leaving ample money to pay for health care for its part-time faculty.

I am thoroughly disappointed at the thought of college administrators across the United States cutting the number of hours temporary faculty may work to 29 or fewer per week, and then simply hiring more adjuncts to fill the gaps. Colleges that employ this tactic should face stiff federal and state education funding penalties, perhaps equal to the amount of money the colleges "save" by skirting the Affordable Health Care Act. If we argue that higher education deserves public funding, we should demand that higher education operate as efficiently as possible; state legislatures need to address administrative bloat in higher education with the same methods the Affordable Health Care Act addresses spiraling costs in the health care industry. That law requires that insurers spend 80 percent of premium dollars on actual health care and quality improvement, not administration, or pay a rebate.

America's public universities should be required to spend the majority of their funds on instruction, as opposed to administration. The Affordable health Care Act not only provides a roadmap for doing this, the patently exploitative response of college administrators to the Act provides a compelling reason to implement a similar rule within higher education institutions starting with Youngstown State University and the Community College of Allegheny County.