It’s a scary time for American workers. To climb the socioeconomic ladder and receive that prestigious degree, you might face crippling student debt or settle for a job that could be taken by a robot one day. Stanford University graduate Rachel Carlson aims to give people another path: corporate-sponsored online education that would work as an employee benefit.

Led by venture firm General Catalyst, Guild Education raised $157 million in series D financing this week, bringing the company’s total raised to $228.5 million. The new funding pushed the Denver-based company’s valuation above $1 billion and positions it among this year’s 11 female-led unicorns. 

Guild works with some of America’s largest employers, including Walmart and Walt Disney, to offer online education as benefits for their employees. Its range includes 1,600 online programs from high school diplomas to master’s degrees in partnerships with accredited higher education institutions including the University of Denver and the University of Arizona.

“[The companies] are not only helping their workforce avoid short or long term student loan debt, but they’re also improving broader company metrics around employee retention, recruitment, upskilling, and overall brand value,” Carlson, Guild’s CEO and co-founder, wrote in a LinkedIn post in September.

  •  Education-related debt is a huge problem and a sizeable portion of students have buyer’s remorse: Americans owe $1.5 trillion in student loans, and about a third of the debtholders thinks the cost outweigh the benefits, according to a PEW report.
  •  The number of female-led unicorns is increasing, but still outnumbered by male-founded companies. A dozen companies with at least one female founder reached unicorn status last year, twice of that in 2017, but that’s only 6% of the 151 new unicorns that year, according to Crunchbase.
  •  There’s a divergence in investor attitude towards gender diversity. In the last 20 years, there were three times as many early-stage rounds raised by companies with only male founders than by ones that included women. However, at similar investment stages, companies with at least one female founder or female C-level executives have raised more money than ones with only male leaders, according to a Kauffman Fellows study.