Hamburger University: A McDonald’s College Degree
Updated August 19, 2022
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Mcdonalds Hamburger University
McDonald’s is among the biggest employers in the world, a multinational company with countless opportunities for leadership and career development. Most of these opportunities require enrollment in Hamburger University, the intensive five-day crash course education in management, leadership, and company culture. Oh, did we mention that you may be able to earn actual college credits with your degree in Hamburgerology? Read on to find out how…
Interested in running your own business, gaining valuable management training, and taking on a leadership role with one of the world’s most recognized brands? Then you might be an excellent candidate for Hamburger University, the official training and education program for aspiring leaders in the McDonald’s restaurant chain.
By revenue, McDonald’s is the single largest restaurant chain in the world. Of course, it takes a lot of talent and a lot of hard work to run a show that big. Those iconic golden arches first appeared in San Bernadino, California, where the flagship burger joint opened its doors in 1940. Today, the company’s more than 1.7 million employees could fill the city of San Bernadino six times over. McDonald’s is the second largest employer in the world — just behind Wal-Mart. A company of this magnitude requires excellent leadership.
That’s where Hamburgerology comes in. Yes, Hamburgerology is an actual thing; not just a thing, but a degree you can earn upon graduating from McDonald’s Hamburger University. Management professionals who will work in various areas of the fast-food giant’s corporate structure must first complete training and career development courses at a sprawling 130,000 square foot Chicago campus.
We wanted to learn more about the Hamburger University experience, and the opportunities it makes possible for ambitious members of the McDonald’s family. We had a chance to speak with Rob Lauber, Senior VP and Chief Learning Officer for McDonald’s Corporation. As part of his overall responsibilities for McDonald’s, Rob is the head of Hamburger University operations around the world. Though he joined McDonald’s in 2014, 2019 also marks 30 years in the Learning & Development profession for Rob. With a career spanning six companies in four different industries, Rob’s insight transcends the inner-workings of McDonald’s and offers an illuminating glimpse at the world of professional training and corporate education.
To read the full transcript of Rob’s interview, check out our conversation as part of our Ask An Expert series.
Hamburger University has a history that stretches back almost as far as the McDonald’s chain itself. Its roots are deeply entwined with the founding of the company itself. This makes Hamburger University one of the first corporate education programs of its kind. The McDonald’s chain was famously born when an ambitious milkshake mixer salesman named Ray Kroc partnered with, and eventually bought out, Maurice and Richard McDonald, two brothers with a small but popular chain of hamburger restaurants. He opened his first new location in Des Plaines, Illinois 1955.
It was there that Fred L. Turner first found work as a grill cook in 1956. Of course, Ray Kroc would go on to become one of the most successful businessmen in the world. Fred Turner’s visions for branding, consistency and quality control would help him get there. In addition to quickly ascending the ranks in the fledgling company, and landing a spot as operations manager by 1958, Fred Turner founded Hamburger University in 1961.
The corporate education and training program was a pioneering concept. Business Insider notes that the grill man, who would ultimately become McDonald’s senior chairman,
started Hamburger University in the basement of a McDonald’s restaurant in Elk Grove Village. Fifteen students graduated from the first class in February 1961.
Those who attended Hamburger University in its earliest days received instruction not only from Fred Turner, but from Ray Kroc himself.
In 2015, Business Insider reported
There are seven Hamburger Universities around the world, including the newest in Shanghai, which opened in 2010. Numerous McDonald’s executives have taken courses at Hamburger University, including McDonald’s USA President Mike Andres. Easterbrook took operations training at the school’s London location. Overall, 40 percent of McDonald’s global leadership has attended HU.
Senior VP and McDonald’s Chief Learning Officer Rob Lauber notes that today, Hamburger University trains roughly 5000 restaurant managers and franchise owners a year. More than 350,000 McDonald’s employees have been through its management, leadership, and business administration programs.
The flagship Hamburger University campus spent most of its history seated in Ray Kroc’s hometown, Oak Brook, Illinois. In 2018, the campus moved to an exciting new location in Chicago. (Oprah’s old studio complex, as it happens.)
This is where the burgers are made…figuratively that is. More literally, this is where the next generation of business leaders are shaped, both within the McDonald’s company and beyond. With Rob Lauber’s help, we offer a quick look at how you can attend Hamburger University, what you’ll experience if you do, and what you can do with this education. We’ll also look at a few tips for financial assistance, McDonald’s scholarships, and even ways you can turn your McDonald’s education into college credits.
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Is Hamburger University right for you?
If you think you’d be interested in attending Hamburger University, you’ll need to get your start just as Fred Turner did all those years ago. The path to Hamburger University begins with a job at McDonald’s, especially in a leadership capacity.
Rob notes that
any person who is a restaurant manager or is in line to become a restaurant manager in the McDonald’s system can attend Hamburger University. In 2019, we expanded offerings to franchise owners themselves and have had more than 100 attend offerings at Hamburger University.
As Rob points out, this experience does position management level personnel to advance to the highest levels of the business.
Those that attend Hamburger University, he said,
leave better equipped to run great restaurants — a foundational part of our business strategy. Many who attend are running multi-million dollar locations at a fairly young age. This, in turn makes them excellent business owners in the long term.
What is Hamburger University like?
If that sounds like something you might be interested in, you’re probably wondering what life is like on the inside of the program. The answer to that question can be found in West Loop Chicago. After the recent move, Hamburger University now calls this neighborhood home.
Rob Lauber describes the original Oak Brook campus as an iconic place, one where countless future leaders came to learn and grow. However, with the recent move to Chicago, Hamburger University has modernized the educational experience. Rob notes that
our space contains cutting-edge digital features that provide personalization for our participants, as well as video broadcast capabilities that enable ’outside-in’ participation by our franchise owners where they can share their journey, experiences, and lessons learned.
Rob tells us that the new location
is in an exciting part of the city so that certainly adds to the ’wow’ experience for participants. Many actually put photos up on Instagram under the #HamburgerUniversity tag and we can bring those posts into our facilities in real time. It has all the traditions of a classroom facility combined with significant technology enablement. It is exciting!
How hard is it to get into Hamburger University?
Now that you’re sufficiently pumped about the opportunity, you’re probably wondering how you can enroll. As Rob notes
Hamburger University has been typically only available to restaurant managers and those directly in line to become one. That makes the eligible pool in the neighborhood of 75,000 people in our system of nearly two million worldwide. Typically our independent franchise owners will nominate people to attend — so while there are not academic requirements, per se, attendance is quite selective.
So if you are a restaurant manager, or you’re in line to become one, and you’re interested in attending Hamburger University, you’ll want to be sure that your franchise owner is aware of your ambition. Make yourself visible and be sure to communicate your desire to advance through this program. This could be your ticket onto the Chicago campus.
For international students, requirements may differ. In fact, admission to the more recently minted Shanghai campus is notoriously selective. Bloomberg News once reported that, with an acceptance rate of just under 1% of all applicants, Shanghai’s Hamburger University was far more selective a school than Harvard University — with its loosey-goosey 7% acceptance rate.
What will you study at Hamburger University?
According to the Chicago Tribune
Each year, hundreds of new McDonald’s U.S. general managers spend five days at Hamburger University on the burger giant’s corporate campus, working toward an honorary bachelor’s degree in Hamburgerology. During their visits, they role play, have meetings with their boss — in this case, a professor — and prepare to return home and make real improvements at the restaurants they run
So what does Hamburgerology really mean though? And how can it position graduates to better lead within their restaurants and beyond?
Rob notes that specific courses include
shift management, introduction to management and guest services and a
session known as GM Capstone. Rob notes that
there are training classes for other leaders as well.
Rob goes on to note that
A typical day in the life of a participant at Hamburger University would be focused on several things: building their leadership capability, learning from peers and experts, and engaging in challenging scenarios that generate insights into their own styles, opportunities, and strengths.
What does Hamburger University cost? Are there scholarships or financial aid?
If you’re interested in attending Hamburger University and cost is a factor, we’ve got great news. Rob tells us that
Costs for executing the programs at Hamburger University are shared between McDonald’s and its franchisees. As such, there are no costs for participants.
Of course, this means that Hamburger University students don’t really need scholarships or financial aid. However, McDonald’s does sponsor a number of scholarship and tuition assistance programs aimed at helping its employees and community members make the leap into accredited two- and four-year colleges.
Though not directly affiliated with the Hamburger University experience, McDonald’s does offer the following scholarship and financial aid programs:
- The Thurgood Marshall College Fund:
- Provides financial assistance to
outstanding students attending one of the 47 publicly-supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBI) within the TMCF member-school network.Each year, six scholars are selected to receive a $10,000 merit scholarship for the subsequent academic year.
- Archways to Opportunity:
- Provides financial assistance to eligible U.S. McDonald’s employees working at participating restaurants so that they can earn a high school diploma, receive college tuition assistance, access free education and career advising services, and learn English as a second language. McDonald’s estimates that it has increased education access for more than 38,500 employees, awarding over $58 million in overall tuition assistance.
This underscores the McDonald’s company’s commitment not just to advancing employees within its own organization through Hamburger University but to providing its employees with access to broader educational and professional opportunities. In fact, Hamburger University may be worth a lot more than its weight in beef…
Can I get college credits for attending Hamburger University?
To reiterate a point from above, Hamburger University is free of charge to eligible attendees. Within the context of Hamburger University, students can earn 23 credits toward a degree in Hamburgerology. This degree can have real-world value even beyond McDonald’s. According to Business Insider, students can also apply some of these credits
toward an associate or bachelor’s degree at 1,600 US colleges and universities, the American Council on Education reports.
This means that, free of charge, you can get a head start on earning college credits through Hamburger University.
Rob Lauber highlights this opportunity, telling us that
In many countries, including the USA, attendance and completion of our curricula will translate into accreditation towards a higher education degree or a nationally recognized certification level. For example, our programs in the USA help managers receive college credit for [completion]…In countries like the UK or Australia, they can receive certification towards a nationally recognized qualification.
Rob points out that McDonald’s maintains an array of working partnerships with accredited colleges and universities. He explains that
Through our Archways to Opportunity program, participants can receive college credit towards their training.
Click here to find out more about partnership programs between McDonald’s and colleges or universities.
To learn more about earning college credits, check out the details at the Archways program website.
What can I do with a degree from Hamburger University?
All the features above suggest that a job at McDonald’s, and a degree from Hamburger University, could really be an excellent point of entry into a regionally accredited university or a practical professional certification. Those college credits could be extremely valuable — translating to real money saved — if you can effectively transfer them into a program at an accredited two- or four-year college or university.
If that’s something you’d be interested in pursuing even as you continue to advance your leadership career within McDonald’s, check out the very Best Online Colleges. Most of these programs are distinguished by their convenience, flexibility, and accessibility for working adults and other non-traditional students.
With a degree from Hamburger University, you’ll qualify not only to advance in the McDonald’s leadership structure, but to lead and excel in a variety of business and organizational settings. The skills and knowledge you’ll gain here may apply in a great many business contexts. And if you’re anything like Hamburger University founder Fred Turner, your path to success, leadership, and innovation could begin with a simple job as a grill cook.
If you view Hamburger University as a jumping off point to a degree in business administration, consider following your McDonald’s training with one of the following online programs:
We’ll close with some words of wisdom for anybody considering this path. Rob notes that
Ray Kroc’s legacy (as well as Fred Turner’s) carry on to this day. We have a quote in Hamburger University that says ’Because we have learned, we have grown.’ And it still holds true. Ray started Hamburger University with the idea of being able to help Restaurant Managers be competent and confident leaders. Our focus on this principle remains true today.
And if you’re looking for a way to balance your advancing career as a leader in the McDonald’s corporation with the pursuit of a flexible college or graduate degree, jump to the Best Online Colleges.
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