Sunday, April 4, 2021

Guild Education


According to the Harvard Business School, "Guild Education is an education marketplace that connects employers and universities to provide employees with “education as a benefit.” Guild's employer clients include Walmart, Lowe's, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell, Disney and Discover Financial. Its education partners include Penn Foster High School, eCornell (part of Cornell University), CSU Global, Purdue University Global (formerly Kaplan University), University of Denver University College, UF Online (part of University of Florida), Johnson and Wales University Online, Brandman University, Bellevue University, and Ancora Education. A majority of Guild's students are working class people of color. The company has been featured in Bloomberg, Forbes, CNBC, the Wall Street Journal, and Inside Higher Education.

History 

(2015) Guild Education founded by Rachel Romer Carlson and Brittany Stich, two Stanford graduates.
(2016) Guild Education raised $8.5 million in Series A funding. They also received an EQUIP grant from the US Department of Education "to provide low-income students with access to new models of education and training." 
(2017) Guild Education raised $20 million dollars in Series B funding. Guild Education teamed up with Lyft to offer programs to its drivers, making Lyft the "First Gig-Economy Company to Provide Access To Education Services to Contractors." Guild also worked with the Denver Public Schools system to help paraprofessionals, most of whom are people of color, become teachers. CEO Rachel Romer Carlson named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. 
(2018) Guild Education raised $40 million dollars in Series C funding. Felicis Ventures was a major investor. 
(2019) Guild Education valued at more than a billion dollars, a rare feat for a company founded by women. Guild Education raised $157 million in Series D funding. Investors included General Catalyst, Emerson Collective, Iconiq Capital and Lead Edge Capital. Ken Chenault joined Guild’s Board of Directors. NBA basketball star Stephen Curry also announced that he had invested in Guild Education. [
(2020) Guild Education acquired edtech venture consultancy Entangled Group. CEO Rachel Romer Carlson was named a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year. 
(2021) Guild Education teamed up with online program manager 2U to connect employees with 500 bootcamp programs covering 30 disciplines and with Google to offer Google Career Certificates. It also added Ancora Corporate Training to its group of educational providers. 

Education Assistance Programs

Education assistance programs are used by many large businesses to recruit, retain, and retrain employees and to increase goodwill with former employees and the public. Corporations with these programs, include Walmart (Live Better U), Amazon (Career Choice), McDonald's (Archways to Opportunity) and Kroger (Feed Your Future). According to Wharton College professor Peter Cappelli, only a small percentage of workers actually use these benefits. 

Policy scholar Kelia Washington states that programs like those at Starbucks, Walmart, and Amazon "are limited in their ability to meaningfully increase college access and completion, and, at worst, they can create additional barriers for employees seeking to obtain high-quality, meaningful credentials." She added that "despite what may be advertised, corporate education assistance programs do not meaningfully relieve financial constraints facing employees interested in pursuing a college degree. These programs in fact limit the college and career choices for some of their employees."

Are Unicorns Real? 

Guild Education has gotten a lot of positive press as an innovative company doing good work. But what do we know about its operations? We know several of its high-profile clients (e.g. Walmart, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell, The Walt Disney Company, Discover Financial Services, 5 Guys Inc) and educational providers (Penn Foster, University of Arizona Global Campus, Purdue University Global, University of Florida). The edtech startup is said to be valued at $1 Billion + (a unicorn), with annual revenues of $100 Million+. Paul Freedman has stated that Guild could become a $100 Billion company. But how about the real balance sheet? 

Bright Horizons is the company's largest competitor. Bright Horizons is publicly traded (BFAM) and has worked with more than 200 companies, including Home Depot and Goldman Sachs. Instride works with Arizona State University, Starbucks, and Uber

While University of Phoenix and EducationDynamics represent the old guard in for-profit education, Guild Education brings the "business model" of higher ed into the 2020s, connecting anti-union companies, low wage labor, and the new "lower ed," producing what appears to be little more than hype.

Leadership and Board Members

Rachel Romer Carlson is the CEO of Guild Education and the grand daughter of former Colorado Governor Roy Romer.  Her father Chris Romer is a lesser known politician who has worked in the oil and gas industry and charter schools.  Natalie McCollough is president and Chief Commercial Officer, Jessica Rusin is Chief Technology Officer, and Suzanne Stoller is the Chief People Officer.  Mae Podesta, VP of Finance and Strategy, is the daughter of DC power broker John Podesta. 

Guild's Board of Directors includes American business executive Kenneth Chenault, Google product innovator Wesley Chan, and Johnny C. Taylor Jr., President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Lisa Sherman, President and CEO of the Ad Council is a board advisor. Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, is a senior strategist. Other board members include Annie Kadavy of Redpoint Ventures and Byron Deeter of Bessemer Venture Partners.  

Current Partners

Walmart's program is called Live Better U. Associates have the opportunity to earn a college degree "for just $1 a day." Partners include Penn Foster High School, Southern New Hampshire University, Purdue University Global, University of Florida, Bellevue University, and eCornell. Penn Foster provides online courses in facilities maintenance, industrial maintenance, HVAC/refrigeration, electrical, plumbing and construction. 

Disney's Aspire program partners include Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, University of Arizona online, University of Central Florida, Valencia College, Brandman University, University of Florida Online, University of Denver University College, Wilmington University and Bellevue University. In 2019, Disney reported "that they had invested $150 million in the Aspire free education program for 90,000 of the company’s cast members." 

Chipotle's program partners with Bellevue University. Wilmington University, Southern New Hampshire University, Brandman University, and Purdue University Global.

Lowes' program partners are Penn Foster High School, Brandman University, Colorado State University School of Business, Wilmington University, and Bellevue University.

Taco Bell's program partners with Brandman University, Johnson and Wales University online, Pathstream, University of Denver, and Wilmington University.

Discover Financial Services' program partners include University of Denver University College, Brandman University, Wilmington University, Bellevue University, and University of Florida Online.

Five Guys' program partners include Penn Foster High School, Brandman University, Southern New Hampshire University, Wilmington University, and Bellevue University.

Education Partners

Ancora Education is a for-profit educator focusing on vocational and technical programs.
Bellevue University is a private university based in Nebraska.
Brandman University is part of the Chapman University system.
eCornell is part of Cornell University, an elite private university.
Pathstream is a "web-based platform for teaching in-demand tech skills for work."
Penn Foster High School is a for-profit online high school owned by Bain Capital.
Purdue University Global, formerly known as Kaplan University, is a part of the Purdue University system.
Southern New Hampshire University is a large non-profit university.
University of Denver University College is a private university.
UF Online is part of the University of Florida state system.
Wilmington University is a private non-profit university based in Delaware.

Competitors

Bright Horizons is the company's largest competitor. Bright Horizons is publicly traded (BFAM) and has worked with more than 200 companies, including Home Depot and Goldman Sachs. Instride works with Arizona State University, Starbucks, and Uber.

Humans Don't (Really) Matter

According to the company, from 2015 to 2019, 400,000 working adults used Guild Education to explore their paths back to school. Guild states that there is a 208 percent return on investment for every one dollar spent on education and that the 90-day retention rate for employees enrolled in Guild is 98 percent versus a 71 percent baseline employee retention rate. In 2018, according to Guild, the Lumina Foundation "agreed to research and measure the impact and effectiveness of the program and will work with the Walmart team to share findings." In 2021, Guild also claims to have "helped working learners avoid more than $363 million in student debt." 

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, "about 15,000 of 950,000 eligible employees use the $1-a-day tuition benefit." That's only about two percent of Walmart's workforce.  In a piece for EducationDive, CEO Rachel Romer Carlson said about 3 to 5 percent of workers in the Guild programs use the benefits.  

With their other clients, is Guild providing educational services to more than two percent of the eligible workers? And how many workers are completing programs?  From this analysis, and the intentional lack of data, it would appear Guild Education for the most part is acting as an anti-union shill, for corporate PR, gathering personal data, upskilling a few workers, and creating lots of goodwill for Walmart and others.  It's possibly a profitable strategy in a world of growing automation and widening inequality, where working people have little to do with the calculus. 





  




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