Feb 23, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: New plan to expand online education for U.S. workers

Illustration of computer keys spelling out "A+"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

2U, a major provider of remote college and professional training, is partnering with a company that works on education reimbursement to expand online schooling opportunities for U.S. workers, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: American workers need help affordably reskilling for the age of automation, but existing higher education opportunities often leave them unprepared and laden with debt. The new partnership aims to take advantage of remote education to meet workers where they are, with what they need.

Driving the news: This morning 2U will announce a partnership with Guild Education, which helps employers offer educational opportunities to their workers, to expand 2U's online offerings with major universities to Guild's corporate partners.

  • "Together we can offer high quality options for social mobility through education," says Chip Paucek, 2U's co-founder and CEO.

How it works: 2U is a long-time player in remote higher education, partnering with more than 75 non-profit colleges and universities — including Morehouse College and the London School of Economics — to provide hundreds of digital education programs, from undergraduate degrees to professional short courses.

  • The Guild's technology platform helps major corporations like Chipotle and Wal-Mart offer education and upskilling to their workers, with tuition paid for by the company.
  • The partnership is aimed at making it easier for Guild's corporate partners to pay for classes, degrees and professional certificates offered by 2U's network of universities, expanding the range of educational opportunities at a moment when reskilling has become increasingly important for employees in all lines of work.

What they're saying: "We're bringing employers and workers to the table to expand access to education with the employer footing the bill and the worker getting the resources to do something pretty hard: work and go to school," says Rachel Carlson, Guild Education's CEO.

Context: The business of higher education is under pressure from the pandemic and increasing attention is being focused on the cost and value of a college degree.

  • Carlson notes that for all the attention on what COVID-19 has done to what most people might think as the traditional college experience, the majority of American higher education learners "will never spend a night in a dorm."
  • While remote college might seem like a bad deal to those expecting — and paying for — the traditional experience, Guild's learners are attending college for the job skills. "They're asking, 'Does this align with my career? Does it work with my work schedule and family?'" says Carlson.

The bottom line: Access and cost remain real barriers to the kind of education American workers need.

  • Expanded online education could help fill the gap, provided it offers meaningful value.
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