College is Expensive. Ineffective Teaching Is Staggeringly Expensive.

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Should someone whose job it is to support faculty in their various roles — including teaching — be allocated the money for a coach now and forever?

Someone who wears the multiple hats of being the head of a center for teaching and learning on their campus is able to excel with a coach in ways that they cannot otherwise.

Sidebar: I hired my first coach when I was the founding Director of the Excellence in Teaching Program, reporting to the office of the provost. My coach supported me in ways that I did not even know I needed support when I first hired her. Roles like my new one require different talents and skills than I needed as a faculty member. To make the shift and be successful, an excellent coach makes a significant difference.

My coaching clients and I have created spreadsheets to run the numbers related to various aspects of their roles at their institutions. For this article, let’s look at just one example. And be prepared for a staggering dollar figure to emerge.

Context: State university (part of a larger system) in a metropolitan area with nearly 60% of its student body who are first-generation students. Of the nearly 30,000 students, 90% are undergraduates. The six-year graduation rate is just under 50% and the four-year graduation rate is less than 20%.

Situation: The university system identified lower-division courses across all their campuses that have DFW rates of 20–50%, i.e., courses where between 20% and 50% of the students earn grades of D or F or who have Withdrawn from the course.

For this example, we will focus on one particular course in mathematics that is required for all subsequent math courses for students who have not shown prior proficiency in the course content.

The numbers: Based on ten years of data, an average of 3500 students per semester enroll in the course. The DFW rate is 41%, which means:

  • 1435 students must retake this course to proceed in mathematics, which is, of course, required for all majors. The university’s records indicate that 89% of these students try again (1277 students).
  • For those students who are retaking the course because they are going to continue working toward their degrees, the cost for this 3-credit course is approximately $1150 (and that is using in-state rates; it’s more than triple that for out-of-state students). This is purely looking at the payment for the course and not considering whether a student’s progress is delayed to the extent that they have to enroll for an extra semester, pay for extra room and board, buy different books because the books are changed, etc. We will keep it “simple” because these numbers are alarming enough!
  • The cost to the state and federal government — since we know a student’s tuition does not come close to covering the cost of that student’s education — is at minimum double that, so we’ll use $2300/student.

To recap:

One course with a high DFW rate results in 1277 students each semester who retake a course (on this one campus).

1277 x ($1150 + $2300) = $4,405,650

Folks, this is each semester. This is the cost to the economy for a course that is not taught as well as it could be (see my note below about the italicized phrase).

When my client and I were talking about this (since she was planning to make the case for her institution to continue supporting her coaching), I asked her what percentage impact she believed she could make in her role as the director of a teaching and learning center on what happened in those courses related to improving instruction. Her estimate (which I think was modest) was 10%. $440,565 of impact/semester.

Was it worth it to the university and the taxpayers of her state to support her in receiving executive coaching? No one needs a calculator to determine that.

Please note: Saying that a course is not “taught as well as it could be” encompasses a range of aspects of teaching at the university level. To completely oversimplify in the interest of brevity, the fact that so many students do not complete or pass a course could be due to: 1) the course being poorly designed; 2) those teaching the class not being adequately prepared to teach the course in terms of content, best practices for instruction, effective methods, etc.; 3) the professors or other instructors never having been given the opportunity to learn how to teach the students who are in their course; 4) inadequate resources (including attending to this as a need!) to make sure the TAs for the course are able to effectively interact with the students to support their learning; 5) the course pre-requisites having been poorly taught; 6) the faculty being so overwhelmed with other responsibilities that they cannot devote the time needed to prepare for and teach the course; and of course, 7) students who sometimes don’t do their part in learning the content; some of that is “on them,” and some of that is because they have never been taught how to study differently for different disciplines (or maybe for any discipline). None of this article example is about blame.

If you are at a college or university, you may be thinking, ‘It matters to me to be able to plan for and teach my courses as well as I am able given the constraints over which I have zero control (e.g., state-controlled budgets, a pandemic, university leadership that is a revolving door); hmmm…I wonder if my institution would support me in having a coach?’ I encourage you to access one or more of this free publications to help you make the ask:

About Meggin McIntosh

Helping people reframe their limiting beliefs is a big part of the joyful work I do as a coach. Sometimes I offer group coaching in addition to working with individual clients. It’s amazing to watch people generate reframes for a belief that has held them back in the past.

I am thankful every day.




Meggin McIntosh, “The PhD of Productivity®”, invests time & energy with people who seek ways to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed.

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Meggin McIntosh

Meggin McIntosh

Meggin McIntosh, “The PhD of Productivity®”, invests time & energy with people who seek ways to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed.

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