Sports

US Olympic committee strikes sponsorship deal to help athletes get degrees after they retire

NEW YORK — American Olympic athletes have a new place to turn to lock down college degrees and other skills for life after sports thanks to a partnership U.S. Olympic leaders announced Tuesday with the Denver-based education company Guild.

The deal between Guild, organizers of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is designed to help the Olympic organizations fulfill commitments to help athletes begin the next chapters of their lives after retirement.

Guild says it has more than 250 offerings on its online platform for U.S. athletes, including opportunities for undergraduate and graduate programs, certification programs and career counseling.

“You’d be hard-pressed to think that someone’s going to go in there and not find something that works for them,” said Carrie White, the USOPC’s vice president of athlete development and engagement.

White said in a recent survey of 5,000 Olympic and Paralympic alumni, around 60% of athletes who were 39 and younger said they needed help with career and professional development. She said within days of the program’s launch earlier this month, some 95 athletes had created profiles on the platform.

Guild CEO Bijal Shah said that because Olympic and Paralympic athletes spend most of their time early in life focusing on sports, they sometimes enter the workforce in need of skills for new careers that others in the job market have already acquired.

“We thought that their capabilities and the services Guild provides could be an amazing opportunity for those athletes,” Shah said.

Shah said Guild was formed in 2015 to offer solutions to the reality that “there was a problem in this country around the student-debt crisis,” along with the overall cost of post-graduate studies, that often stymied people’s quest for degrees and other adult education.

Guild works with employers — Walmart, Chipotle and Target are among its big-name clients — that offer programs for their workers through the company’s platform that helps them further their educations, tuition-free.

Shah said people who embark on Guild are 2.6 times more likely to move up in their company and that incremental wage increases earned by Guild learners are around two times larger than for those who don’t participate.

Jess Bartley, who heads the USOPC’s psychological services department, said post-retirement planning is one of the most consistently difficult conversations to start up with athletes. It’s another example of how this deal fits into what the USOPC and LA28 are trying to accomplish in an era in which they are increasingly being pressed to consider athletes’ overall well-being, and not just how they perform inside the lines.

Janet Evans, the four-time gold-medalist swimmer who serves as LA28’s chief athlete officer, said “Guild’s vision … aligns with LA28’s commitment to supporting the whole athlete, from their performance to their total well-being.”

White said the USOPC awarded more than $1.8 million in tuition grants in 2023 to qualified athletes, most worth around $4,500 that were paid directly to the schools they attended.

Those grants will continue, while the partnership with Guild offers a different option and, White said, more benefit because many programs are fully funded. For programs that are partially funded through Guild, the USOPC will cover up to $10,000 a year. Athletes who qualify will be eligible to use Guild for up to 10 years after they retire.

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