Forget Harvard and Yale, you can get a degree in hamburgers. Yes, hamburgers.
It's a little-known fact outside the McDonald's Corp. that the fast-food chain runs a program actually called Hamburger University. There are seven locations around the world, with the flagship 130,000-square-foot facility on the 80-acre Oak Brook, Ill., corporate campus.
"Owners-operators send restaurant managers there to learn how to run a McDonald's restaurant," McDonald's spokeswoman Becca Hary said. "So it's really a place where McDonald's employees can learn and grow."
Some students might practice what to do if a customer slips and falls, while others learn how to manage the books. The program isn't free, but owners-operators typically pay for an employee's participation as "an investment in the future of their employees," Hary said.
"There's definitely some of the hands-on simulation work that goes on in the restaurant, but then you're also learning a lot of the business aspects, like operations and scheduling," Hary said. "An average McDonald's restaurant is $2.6 million a year in sales, so you're really learning to run a McDonald's restaurant."
The facility has 19 full-time professors who teach different courses designed for crew, restaurant managers, mid-managers and executives in 28 different languages. More than 275,000 McDonald's franchisees, managers and employees have graduated from Hamburger University worldwide, with more than 40 percent of the company's senior leaders graduating from the program.
Founded in 1961 by former McDonald's CEO Fred Turner, the program started in the basement of a restaurant with an average of about 10 students per class and was originally designed to teach consistency in products. Today, classes have ballooned to more than 200 students, and more than 5,000 people attend each year to learn much more than just how to consistently build a Big Mac.
Now, students can even earn their associate's degree through 1,600 participating colleges if they take enough courses at the university.
So don't laugh at a degree in hamburgers.