Model & Strategy

Millions of Americans are underemployed in low-wage jobs, while U.S. employers are struggling to find talent with the skills they need. Merit America’s goal is to provide a path to skilled careers for the millions of Americans without college degrees, who are working in low-wage jobs and struggling to succeed in a changing economy. By combining new technologies with significant in-person support, Merit is developing the most effective and scalable model in the field. Merit America’s strategy includes:

-Partnering with employers to secure hiring commitments and understand the specific skills needed for their roles.

-Operating blended learning programs aligned to those skills that mix the best of online learning with in-person support.

-Serving Americans without Bachelor’s degrees, with fast and flexible programs that work for working adults.

Merit America logo
At a Glance
Founded: 2018
Economic Empowerment
Location of work: Domestic
Merit America
Washington, DC
Closing the skills gap at scale
A young sharp dressed black man stands at a podium to address a crowd gathered for a Merit America event
Rebecca Taber Staehelin headshot
Meet Rebecca Taber Staehelin

Rebecca Taber Staehelin has spent the past decade focusing on education-for-employment across the private, public and social sectors. After graduating from Yale, she worked as a management consultant in the Washington D.C. office of McKinsey, where she advised a range of educational institutions, including the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE). She left McKinsey to become Chief Performance Officer at the DDOE and was later appointed Education Advisor to Delaware Governor Jack Markell.

During her four years in Delaware, Rebecca saw firsthand how the current higher education system largely fails students from low-income families, with the vast majority leaving higher education with significant debt, and no degrees to show for it. After completing her joint MBA and MA in Education at Stanford, Rebecca joined Coursera, the world’s largest online education platform, as the Head of Government & Nonprofit Partnerships – with the goal of understanding how technology could help expand access to educational opportunity. Over her four years in Silicon Valley, Rebecca saw how new education technologies could indeed help people transform their lives, but also that technology advances were primarily reaching those who had already succeeded in the traditional education system.

From those experiences came the idea for Merit America.


Key metric: Merit America is focused on generating immediate Social Return on Investment (SROI)—by driving near-term wage gains for learners that greatly exceed Merit costs, and that continue to grow in subsequent years.

Initial data: Over 5,000 candidates applied for Merit America’s initial cohorts, which have reached 225 learners in D.C. & Dallas. Over 80% of those learners completed the program and earned industry-recognized credentials, and over 80% of job-seeking graduates secured new careers within 6 months, with an average annual wage gain of $15K+ compared to a cost of <$5K per learner served. Merit’s partnerships with multiple Fortune 500 companies— including JPMorgan Chase, Amazon, Google and more—have been key to success.

Long-term goal: Merit America is on-track to serve 1,000 total learners by the end of 2020 across. Merit America plans to scale rapidly to dozens of regional sites reaching tens of thousands of learners, driving an estimated $1 Billion in near-term wage gains in the next five years—with the goal of becoming the leading provider of skill development programs for working adults.