Professors feel effects of health reform law

Posted: May 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Lord Fairfax Community College adjunct professors Andrew Lowder and Anna Kiefer are among the more than 2,000 instructors in Virginia’s 23 community colleges who will see their hours cut and their pay decreased due to a federal health reform law.

Under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers must provide health benefits to any employee who works 30 hours or more. In February, in response to the new law, Gov. Bob McDonnell directed that all part-time state employees work 29 hours or less.

The cutbacks for Virginia educators began May 1, when adjunct professors in the Virginia Community College System were limited to teaching no more than 10 credit hours in each semester and no more than seven credit hours in the summer (totaling 27 credits per year).

As a result, some professors — like Lowder, 42, and Kiefer, 34 — had to reduce their semester workload from four classes to three, resulting in approximately $4,000 to $6,000 less in their annual pay.

Now, Lowder must consider taking a full-time job or teaching more dual-enrollment classes at the high school level to make up for it.

“It puts extra strain on my wife,” he said. “It’s a financial hassle, and it forces me to spread myself out instead of teaching here at the college, which is what I prefer.”

Kiefer teaches at both LFCC locations in Middletown and Page County.

For her, it’s not the loss of money that bothers her most but the fact that she was forced to drop a class in Luray that will now likely be canceled.

“Most of my students in Luray are non-traditional, older parents,” she said. “They need a ticket out. I feel like this gives them fewer options.”

Lowder added: “If you don’t have class options in that area, they’re screwed. They’re stuck in perpetual poverty forever.”

According to data from the Facebook page “Save the Adjuncts,” 9,000 courses in Virginia’s community colleges could be lost due to the change — leading to a potential 90,000 to 216,000 students being denied access to courses.

Kiefer doesn’t need health insurance because she is covered by her husband’s plan. For this reason, she wishes there was a waiver allowing her to work more hours.

“I’ll teach as many [classes] as you want to give me,” she said.

There are 9,000 adjunct professors in Virginia — 25 percent of whom worked more than 27 credit hours last year.

Out of 248 part-time instructors, LFCC had 22 adjunct faculty who taught more than 27 credits in the past year.

Adjunct professors often have the same credentials as full-time professors, but they are contractors, not state employees, and are paid by their classload. They do not receive retirement benefits, health insurance or unemployment compensation.

“I love this job,” Kiefer said. “But it’s very frustrating right now to see this kind of situation happening.”

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com