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IOWA CITY — Iowa’s public universities in recent years have drifted farther from a target of one supervisor per 15 employees to a narrower ratio of one supervisor per nine or 10 subordinates, according to a new Board of Regents report.
The Iowa Legislature in 2010 changed the Iowa Code to — among other things — require regents to develop a “span of control policy” for their institutions; set a supervisor-employee target of 1-to-15; and report to the state annually ways the policy is affecting the workforce, producing cost savings and creating efficiencies.
Industry experts say upping a company’s span of control — and thus reducing managers and layers in an organization — can save money, improve communication and empower workers.
In 2010, the University of Iowa had one supervisor per 12 workers, Iowa State had one per 19 workers and the University of Northern Iowa had one per 15. But the ratios have since narrowed.
According to the regents’ annual “span of control report,” made public in February, UI has one manager per nine employees, UNI has one per 10 workers and ISU reports one supervisor per 11.
Both UI and UNI officials said COVID played a role.
“Adjustments as a result of the pandemic have resulted in fewer students working, which has contributed to the lower span of control ratio,” UNI spokesman Steve Schmadeke said. “An ideal span of control can vary widely based on the type of work and complexities of a department.”
UI officials also noted a change in the workforce since the 2010 changes were enacted.
“As we move toward a workforce made up of more knowledge workers, more specialized supervision is needed,” according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. “Additionally, span of control does not factor in the amount of time a supervisor spends performing other productive work, outside of their supervisory function. Supervision is often only a small part of an individual's overall job responsibilities.”
The board’s annual report doesn’t include details on potential cost savings, efficiencies and outcomes of the state law and board policy — although it notes other annual reports address span-of-control issues and efficiencies, like its human resources report.
The universities — as allowed by law — exclude from their supervisor-to-employee calculations all faculty, employees involved with direct patient care and departments with 28 or fewer full-time employees. That excludes 331 departments at UI, 162 departments at ISU and 107 departments at UNI.
Board officials note span of control is just one consideration university administrators weigh in determining the best staff mix, along with skills and expertise needed to perform the work; degree of oversight required within varying contexts; risk of errors; and other factors balancing efficiency with quality and effectiveness.
“Every year, each department must look at the employee lines for that department and determine the balance between efficiency, span and control, and having the appropriate number of people to achieve their charge,” board spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette. “Obviously, it is not a one-size-fits-all calculation.”
He said Iowa’s public universities are “much more efficient than their peers” and have fewer administrators than peer institutions.
And Lehman noted board officials in the fall answered a series of lawmaker questions — including on issues related to cost savings, efficiencies and outcomes. That included a question on number of administrators across the campuses.
According to the board’s new human resources and diversity reports, also made public last month, UI counted 384 total executive, administrative or managerial staff in October 2021 — about 2 percent of the total 19,095-strong workforce. That tally is up from a decade earlier, when the UI reported 352 administrative and managerial staff — also about 2 percent of its 15,629 workers then.
ISU counted 658 executive, administrative or managerial staff this academic year — about 17 percent of its 6,856 total and up 76 percent from 373 in 2011, when that group accounted for 6 percent of its workforce.
UNI reported 103 managerial or executive staff — equal to 6 percent of the total. In 2011, UNI reported 95 in that group, about 5 percent of its total.
Other employee-related changes revealed in the board’s February human resources and diversity reports show some improvement in gender and racial equity. All three campuses have increased the percent of their workers who identify as a minority.
Among those executive, administrative and managerial staffers, the UI has upped the percentage who identify as a minority from 5 percent in 2011 to 16 percent today, and the percentage who identify as female from 39 percent in 2011 to 48 percent today.
The reports show average salaries for staffers across all three campuses have increased, as has the average pay for faculty at UI and ISU — which at the UI jumped from $107,798 in 2017 to $116,581 in 2022 and at ISU from $94,341 to $101,765.
UNI is the only one to report its average faculty pay has dropped — from a recent high of $80,436 in 2020 to $76,740.
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