CNBC Disruptor 50

5. Guild Education

Founders: Rachel Romer Carlson (CEO), Brittany Stich
Launched: 2015
Headquarters: Denver
$378.5 million
Valuation: $3.7 billion
Key technologies:
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 2 (No. 49 in 2021)

Persephone Kavallines

Companies of all kinds are trying everything they can to retain and attract talent during the Great Job Reshuffle. Guild Education's focus on "education as a benefit" is hitting the right note. The Denver-based edtech firm helps leading companies such as Disney, Walmart, Target and Discover Financial offer debt-free degrees to their employees.

Co-founder and CEO Rachel Romer Carlson says her firm offers debt-free tuition for employees so that they can get the education and pick up the skills they'll need for in-demand jobs. On Guild Education's platform, users can enroll in programs from high school to trades, associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees.

According to the company, there are more than 30 million working adults without a high school diploma, and 70% of the U.S. population doesn't have a college diploma. Rather than look at a college degree as a passport to a job, Guild Education is trying to help working Americans get the education they need with the help of employer-sponsored benefits. Chipotle is a customer and offers 100% tuition coverage for employees.

The company's platform guides workers to online courses provided by accredited institutions of higher education, and does not work with for-profit, online colleges that have come under scrutiny. The courses are usually flexible, and don't require students to leave during a workday to complete a lesson or take an exam.

Guild measures how well students are doing in terms of course completion, with advisers nudging and cheering students if they're falling behind, or suggesting tweaks and techniques that can help them complete a desired course, degree or other credentials in line with career goals.

The most popular courses and degrees completed via Guild, according to its internal research, focus on cybersecurity, IT, health care, and English as a second language. Other areas of concentration for professional study include business writing, administration, human resources, and management.

In June, the company raised $150 million in a Series E round from Bessemer Venture Partners, Cowboy Ventures, D1, Emerson Collective, General Catalyst, GSV, Harrison Metal, ICONIQ, Redpoint and Salesforce Ventures. Guild Education is now valued at $3.7 billion and is using its fresh financing to expand its coaching staff, increase the number of short-term certificates it offers and amplify its outreach with historically Black colleges and universities.

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