When Rachel Carlson was growing up, education reform was a regular dinnertime topic. Her father was a Colorado state senator from 2006-10 and her grandfather had been Colorado governor from 1987-1999. Carlson herself worked on the Obama campaign in 2008.
The political environment in Colorado was filled with people who shared Carlson’s passion for education reform, she says. But when she joined the Stanford University Graduate School of Business MBA class of 2015, she met a classmate whose experience with higher education had been very different.
Brittany Stich was in the same interdisciplinary graduate program as Carlson, but Stich was a first-generation college student who had worked for Teach For America and Aspire Public Schools, a national K-12 school system that works with underserved student populations and helps train teachers and share best practices. Still, what Carlson and Stich had in common outweighed their differences. Both were getting their MBAs and master’s degrees in education, and both wanted to improve access to education for working adults.
They teamed up, and when Carlson graduated they launched Guild Education, an edtech company based in Denver, Colorado, that works with employees and employers to provide job training and degree programs for working adults — essentially, approaching the twin challenges of education and employment together. Less than two years in, Guild has raised a $10.5 million investment, earning it a spot at 49th in the 2017 Poets&Quants Top 100 MBA Startups ranking, the first time on the list for the young company.
“My family has worked in education reform since I can remember,” Carlson says. “And for Brit, she’s the first in her family to go to college. So thinking about what allowed her to navigate that path — a lot of that is what we do at Guild.”
ONLINE EDUCATION AS A WORK BENEFIT
Guild is a platform that helps employers offer education as a benefit to employees. The company partners with other companies that want to offer educational benefits and helps them to pay the lowest amount possible by navigating federal grants and tuition discounts. Guild also keeps track of each partner company’s tuition assistance data, for future recruiting purposes.
“We are as much employment-tech as we are edtech,” Carlson says. “Our goal is to bring those two together. Everything is about education and employment, and helping students navigate the world as a working learner.”
They also partner with nonprofit online universities, which offer tuition discounts of up to 20% for students enrolled through Guild.
ALL ABOUT ONLINE
Right now, Guild’s university partners include Colorado State University’s Global Campus, Bellevue University, Western Governors University, and Brandman University, which offer online undergraduate and graduate degrees.
And Guild offers its own programming, including GED, English as a Second Language, and undergraduate management training classes.
“Everything we offer is available online, and the platform allows employers and employees to find the right program, and to work with our coaches to succeed in that program, and to navigate the payments,” Carlson says.
SURVIVING IN TOMORROW’S WORKING WORLD
When Carlson and Stich first launched Guild, Stich was still completing her MBA. “She felt a lot of empathy for our students who work while going to school,” Carlson says. “She was kind of our guinea pig.”
Now the team is all in Denver, and Carlson says they’re in an exciting growth stage, adding new university partners and new employer partners as quickly as they can — as well as growing the Guild team.
“Long-term, we want to lead this new area of education as a work benefit,” Carlson says. “We want to make sure the 64 million Americans who are working adults, who haven’t had the opportunity to earn a degree, can thrive and survive in the working world of tomorrow.”
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