Innovator’s company helps workers earn diplomas

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Soaring tuition costs are making it difficult for many workers to earn their college degrees. But Rachel Carlson aimed to change that by creating Guild Education in 2015.

Carlson’s mission? To make it easy for companies to turn education into an employee perk by helping their workers to earn college credits and pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees. It does so with its programming, which currently includes GED, ESL and undergraduate-level management training courses. Guild offers a variety of online classes, programs and more than 30 degrees from top-ranked universities including Colorado State University’s Global Campus, Bellevue University, Brandman University and Western Governors University.

Since founding Guild Education in 2015, Carlson, the company’s CEO, has led the education-as-a-benefit tech company’s growth — from three full-time employees to 51 today — and secured $8.5 million in Series A funding last fall. She continues to lead aspects of business development and strategic partnerships with universities and employers.

Guild Education’s online platform has gained traction among major employers including Chipotle, Denver Public Schools and the Public Service Credit Union.

Chipotle employees, for example, can access up to $5,250 annually in tuition reimbursement from the eatery, and an additional $5,815 in federal grants for qualified applicants in undergraduate programs. Through these programs and the discounted tuition offered to Chipotle employees by Guild Education, many participants can complete their degree for as little as $250 per year.

Carlson says Guild’s approach has a twofold benefit: It gives employees the opportunity to pursue educational opportunities, and it helps employers retain and recruit talent.

“Our goal is to help employers offer higher education as a strategic corporate benefit by turning their corporate tuition reimbursement policies from what has traditionally been a cost center into an employee benefit with a positive ROI for the company,” says Carlson, a 2017 recipient of an Benefits Technology Innovator Award, which recognizes visionaries who are driving technology innovation in the employee benefits space.

Initial outcomes from Guild’s programs are impressive. In the high-turnover fast-casual space where 90-day retention is indicative of long-term retention, the 90-day retention rate of employees who enrolled in one of Guild’s programs was 98%, compared to 73% for employees who did not participate or who were unfamiliar with the program, the company says.

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