​In this exclusive Social Capital Q&A, visionary Guild Education CEO Rachel Romer Carlson candidly shares her passionate belief that education is the key that opens the door for people to rise into the middle class and her determination to enable their access. And her incredible success working with companies like Chipotle, Disney, and Discover proves that employers reap benefit as well.

We honored Rachel Romer Carlson in November as one of that month’s Top 10 Social Capital CEOs for her commitment to breaking the cycle of poverty in many families by bringing the opportunity of education and upskilling to masses of workers throughout America. Her experiences with her own family opened her eyes to the critical role of education in achieving at least a middle-class level of economic security.

This conversation, as with all our CEO Q and A’s, is just the beginning of our series of ongoing articles and interactions with Rachel, and we look forward to her sharing more of her insights on how to do business right in today’s complicated and challenging environment where  Social Capital  is becoming more and more important.

Chris: Where does your drive to break the cycle of poverty come from -- and your decision to devote your life to it? 

Rachel: My motivation comes from my family. I joke that I have an AB on higher ed in my family. On my dad’s side, his parents both went to college and, as lifelong learners, they also had the good fortune to save for all of their kids, and then all 22 grandchildren, to go to college. That’s why I was able to go to college debt-free, and part of why I was able to take the risk to launch Guild.

But on my mom’s side of the family with nine kids (we have huge families, I know!), just my mom and one other sibling went straight to a four-year college. All nine of the siblings were able to build decent middle-class lives -- regardless of whether they went to college -- with jobs in the skilled trades, education, and more.

But now with my generation, the number one predictor for the 20 cousins on that side of the family of whether they went to college or how fast they entered the middle class wasn’t their ability or test scores; it was their access to go to school without suffocating debt. Many are much smarter than me. It’s not right, and it’s what motivates me to ensure opportunity is as equally distributed as talent. 

Chris: Explain the process by which Guild finds and helps those that need their services. 

Rachel: Guild is on a mission to unlock opportunity for America’s workforce through education and upskilling. 

We work with the largest employers in the country — companies like Walmart, Chipotle, Disney, Lowes — to offer education and upskilling to their workforce. We help their employees go to school debt-free while helping the companies connect education and upskilling to their talent strategy, both to upskill their workforce and as a tool for retention and recruitment. Guild pursues this work in the interest of serving more than 88 million Americans who need to go back to school or need to keep learning, reskilling, and training in this economy.

By partnering with Fortune 1000 companies, employees at those companies can access our dynamic learning marketplace of universities and academic providers, enrolling in programs from high school completion to skilled trades to bachelor’s and master’s degrees. We also provide personalized coaching for working adults to support their academic journey from enrollment all the way through graduation. 

Chris: How do you make partnerships with companies like Disney, Discover, and Chipotle happen? Was it difficult at first, why or why not?

Rachel: Given the scale of the problem we are working to tackle, Guild partners with some of the most innovative leading Fortune 500 companies across the country.  By investing in education and skilling for frontline employees, Guild enables companies to unlock DEI, talent, and business outcomes.  Companies that partnered with Guild have realized an average of $2.84 in savings for every $1 invested in education benefits -- a net return of $1.84.  Employers see the ROI of investing in their employees with higher recruitment, retention, upskilling, and employee satisfaction rates.

Chris: Does Guild education reach out to those not already working in a large company? 

Rachel: To support students who do not work at Fortune 500 employers, we are an operating partner of and provide our technology to the SkillUp Coalition, an upskilling solution built to help America’s laid-off and furloughed workers access the training and employment opportunities they need to secure a place in the economy of the future. Through this partnership, we help workers from any size company who have been laid off by connecting them to education and training opportunities to upskill for new roles and help them advance in their careers.

Chris: How important and how powerful is the experience of making people aware of theireducational opportunities? 

Rachel: There are 88 million working adults in need of reskilling or upskilling in order to compete in the future of work, 64 million of whom do not have a post-secondary degree. Providing access to education and upskilling to these working adults and, importantly, in a way that allows them to avoid incurring any short- or long-term debt, is critical to their success and ability to succeed in the future of work, as well as to the success of their employers.

Chris: Is it difficult for Guild to convince potential students of the value of education and thelong-term prospects of what higher education could bring them? 

Rachel: At Guild, we’re on a mission to unlock opportunity for America’s frontline workforce through education and upskilling. We’ve been able to prove the impact in students’ lives through some really meaningful statistics, helping to demonstrate the value of education and upskilling opportunities. 

For example, students enrolled in a Guild Education employer program are two times more likely to have a promotion or role change than the average employee. Additionally, data from Guild students show those enrolled in school through their employer were 2.7 times more likely to retain at work than their peers. For one employer, frontline employees who participated in the education benefits program were 7.5 times more likely to move into a management role than frontline employees not engaged with the program. On average, these promotions equated to a $135,000 increase in annual income.

Chris: Are the companies willing to put in the effort to help their own people when it may not benefit the bottom line? What is their benefit?

Rachel: In light of COVID-19 and the drastic impact it has had on America’s frontline workforce, we have seen leading Fortune 500 companies ramp up their investments in their education and upskilling programs because they’ve recognized how such programs can serve as an important tool in helping  to attract, retain, and upskill employees. As a result, enrollment in Guild’s programs has increased during the pandemic.

By investing in education and skilling for frontline employees, Guild enables companies to unlock DEI, talent, and business outcomes. The proof is in the numbers: Guild students at our employer partners have an 80% average one-year retention rate compared to the national average of 56%, with some partners seeing a retention of more than 90% among participating employees.

Additionally, Guild's partner employers have seen a 20–25% increase in job applicants following program launch. Students enrolled in a Guild Education employer programs are two times more likely to have a promotion or role change than the average employee. Lastly, Guild helps cultivate DEI across companies’ workforce by closing credentials and skills gaps in underrepresented frontline populations, supporting underrepresented employees with academic providers and coaching resources specifically designed to help them succeed, and creating career advancement opportunities and economic mobility for those who have traditionally been left behind.

Chris: What are the limitations to being the facilitator of this service and not the educator? 

Rachel: At Guild, we have curated a dynamic and diverse learning marketplace through which students can enroll in programs ranging from high school completion to skilled trades  to bachelor’s and master’s degrees at leading universities and learning providers such as SNHU, Purdue Global University, Paul Quinn College, and others. In offering this learning marketplace to our employer partners and, in turn, their employees, we are able to best ensure the success of the students we support by providing them with a variety of educational pathways to achieve their professional and personal goals.

Chris: Tell us about the Next Chapter program and how it works. Has it been a success? Have there been challenges to it? 

Rachel: Next Chapter as a product has evolved in the last eight months since the pandemic began. The product started from a place of an urgent need to support the millions of workers who were laid-off or furloughed due to the pandemic. As we’ve spent more time discussing with our employer partners and working with students, we have found that there are additional opportunities to connect talent to their next career move at employers that are looking to hire and can help employees continue to upskill and pursue their education. Over the last several months, we have enhanced our partnerships with our academic partners to re-engage their stop-outs and stall-outs by helping them get an entry-level job with a company that will pay for them to keep pursuing their education.

Chris: What are your goals for the future of Guild? 

Rachel: Right now, what we are focused on at Guild is scaling our teams, processes, and partnerships in order to support more working adults on their path to school and upskilling. We are also committed to bolstering support and resources for our employees as we all navigate work and life in the midst of a global pandemic.

Chris: How do you see Guild and other companies being able to change the world for the better in the coming years?

Rachel: Guild Education is a certified B Corp. with a double-bottom-line business model that does well by doing good. In partnering with leading employers across the country,  we have demonstrated an ability to deliver positive outcomes both for corporations and their frontline employees, leading public and nonprofit universities and society more broadly. We look forward to expanding our partnerships with more employers to increase that impact in the future. 

Chris: Thanks for sharing all of this, Rachel, and we wish you luck and look forward to keeping our readers up to date on all the great things you are doing.