Education Tax Benefits? Not for Adjunct Faculty!

The traditional reason for a college or university engaging a faculty member on a basis other than tenured or tenure-track was that the faculty member had valuable specialized skills and/or expertise to teach the students, but was not postured to teach on a full-time basis. To be sure, such rationale is still used to explain some adjunct faculty appointments. For the most part, however, academe has long abandoned any pretenses of specialized expertise, and is now quite unabashed about hiring adjuncts to teach in order to avoid footing the bill for the salary and perquisites inherent in hiring a full-time faculty member. And now, the vast majority of higher education instruction personnel in America are adjuncts.

The disparities between how higher education institutions treat their full-timers and their adjunct faculty, and how such disparities are detrimental to sound educational policy, have already been discoursed upon in detail by this writer and many others, and are not now belabored any further. But the academy is not the only one to impose a double standard; the tax laws also accord disparate treatment to adjunct faculty.

The colleges and universities are notorious for not providing adequate office space or supplies to their adjuncts, yet an adjunct who does at home what full-timers would do in their offices cannot claim a home office deduction on his or her tax return. And though a college adjunct must often tap his or her own wallet for incidental supplies not provided by the institution, he or she did not qualify as an "eligible educator" to exclude such out-of-pocket expense from gross income under the Internal Revenue Code Section 62(a)(2)(D) provision which applied from 2002 through 2013, and which some in Congress now seek to extend.

More significantly, colleges have cut back on the hours they allow adjuncts to teach in order to avoid the financial obligations of providing health insurance coverage under the ObamaCare Employer Mandate, thereby wreaking havoc to the adjunct faculty member's situation.

So when the Obama Administration posts a Factsheet on the White House website "to ensure that all students and families understand what education tax benefits they are eligible for," adjunct faculty across America cannot help but wonder what tax benefits they, as the ones who collectively pull the laboring oar in the higher education process, may be eligible to receive.

And we ponder all the more as to the future of higher education in America when student and educator alike are being saddled with immense debt by an educational system that is supposed to help make society socially and economically prosperous.

Kenneth H. Ryesky is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Queens College of the City University of New York.  He formerly served as an attorney for the IRS.