3 Questions for Guild Education’s Mark Rudnick

Learning Innovation

Mark Rudnick, Vice President of Learning Partnerships at Guild Education, first became friends a few years ago when he was in a similar role at edX. The other day, Mark and I Zoomed to catch up, and he filled me in on what is going on over at Guild. In listening to Mark talk about Guild and his role, I thought that our IHE community would be interested to learn more. Mark graciously agreed to answer my questions.

Q1: Can you give us the elevator pitch of what Guild Education does?  What are the other companies in the same space?

At Guild, we empower the American workforce to unlock life-changing opportunities by providing the career pathways, skills, and support that every worker needs to build their career. We do that by partnering with some of the largest employers in the country (including Walmart, Hilton, Target, The Walt Disney Company and Chipotle) to help foster what we like to call Cultures of Opportunity inside their companies. What this looks like in practice is making education, skilling, and career pathways accessible to employees at all levels of the organization, with a particular focus on the frontline workforce.

At the same time, we partner with leading higher ed institutions and learning organizations to make their programs available to our employer partners and their employees. We focus those partnerships on organizations that are skilled at and invested in serving working adult learners.

Guild then focuses on providing those working adults with a broad range of services to help support their career development and economic mobility, including a payments platform that makes sure workers don’t have to pay up front, ensuring non-discrimination in benefits administration, and providing coaching support services.

While there are other organizations out there who do more traditional tuition reimbursement, we think that the combination of expertise in program design that eliminates cost and debt for learners; our technology; our coaching investment; and our deeply integrated learning marketplace is unique in the market!

Q2. We’ve all been following the challenges of for-profit companies in the education industry. How is Guild Education different from online learning platform and online program management (OPM) providers?

I very much appreciate this question! I think oftentimes all venture-backed companies get “lumped” together even when their models are very different.

Guild is not an OPM; we don’t develop and market courses, manage online programming, or perform any of the traditional roles of an OPM. Instead, Guild operates as a marketplace that connects employers, learning partners, and working adult learners.

There are a couple of specific differences that are worth calling out about our approach and model:

  • As I’m sure most of your readers know, currently, the government finances higher education for many students, but it pays for enrollment — not value or outcomes; unfortunately government policy offers little incentive to improve student outcomes or align to market needs
  • Most OPMs are “direct to consumer” businesses where programs are paid for by students, often with significant student debt incurred. Tuition for Guild’s adult learners is primarily paid for by their employers. 97% of Guild’s learners go to school without incurring debt.
  • We establish clear expectations for quality and ROI that we share transparently with our employer and learning partners. Doing so enables Guild and our employer partners to source the best academic institutions and programs to provide the skills working adult learners need to compete in the future of work. If a school underperforms on outcomes or raises prices above quality, the employer stops buying from them. We believe those market dynamics are a powerful way in which we continue to raise the bar on quality.
  • Another thing that makes us different is that some OPMs spend large “shares” of tuition dollars on marketing services — which is a cost ultimately passed along to the student. At Guild, we intentionally aim to eliminate marketing costs through our model of partnership with employers. This helps eliminate costs for employers and students, and helps our academic partners connect with students without spending hundreds of millions on Google and Facebook ads.

Q3.  You’ve been working at the intersection of companies, schools, and learners for over a decade now. The involvement of for-profit companies in non-profit higher education remains controversial amongst many in higher education. What would you say to people in academia who think that it is almost always a bad idea for non-profit colleges and universities to engage in strategic partnerships with for-profit companies?

This is something I’ve contemplated quite a bit over my career working for both non-profit and for-profit companies. I think looking through the lens of tax status alone is an insufficient way to evaluate an organization. Ultimately, I believe learning organizations – for-profit or non-profit, public or private, university or alternative – should be judged on the merits of their impact on learners. Are they delivering high quality supports and outcomes? Are they helping learners achieve their career and learning goals? Do those outcomes lead to meaningful impact on their learners (personally, academically, career-oriented, economically)? And do they do so affordably that leads to positive ROI for all stakeholders?

I am proud to work at Guild because we think about these issues deeply and our work is always grounded in what is best for learners.

I’ve seen many examples of incredibly fruitful partnerships that create real mutual benefit for both non-profit schools and outside partners. And I’ve seen a handful that don’t. The most successful cases almost always start with the learner at the center.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2023
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Tuesday, February 14, 2023