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Follow Your Gut: More Than 5,000 People Study “Hamburgerology” Every Year To Boost Their Career

In August 1996, Volusia County in Florida held elections for the public school board, which oversees 16 municipalities. One of the candidates running for a position on the board was 29-year-old Diana LaPorta. When asked about her formal education, LaPorta said she held a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. The granting institute: McDonald’s Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois.

Hamburger U started operating first as a training seminar in the basement of a McDonald’s location back in 1961. The first cohort consisted of 14 trainees and was led by Fred L. Turner — a talented fry cook who would eventually climb the ranks to become the CEO of the world’s largest fast food chain for 20 years.

Designed to train employees on the ropes of restaurant management, the program offered more than just burger-flipping classes. Granted, cooking techniques were part of the curriculum, but students also learned about customer service, business operations, leadership skills, and more.

Behind the pioneering move was McDonald’s’ late owner and CEO at the time Ray Kroc. Kroc was responsible for the chain’s massive global expansion, as well as its most well-known trademark that reached every corner of the world: the famous golden arches logo.

Kroc put a strong emphasis on talent and professional development within the company. To that end, and to ensure uniformity among the thousands of McDonald’s franchise restaurants, Hamburger U became the main gateway to promotion opportunities among employees: More than 40% of McDonald’s’ senior leadership walked the graduation ceremony at Hamburger University.

Today, the campus trains 5,000 people annually and is located near the company’s headquarters in West Loop, Chicago. It has 8 branches worldwide, including one in Shanghai that oversees China and accepts less than 1% of applicants, making it harder to get into than Harvard University.

Back to Volusia County and the 96’ elections. Diana LaPorta, a conservative candidate who sought to tip the balance of power and influence major board policies, was not moved by the controversy around her educational background. The diploma she’d earned 8 years earlier read “Bachelor’s Degree in Hamburgerology”, and for her was the “culmination of five years of in-store training,” she said.

The credits earned by students could go towards a college degree and are, as a matter of fact, recognized by many universities. But even Hamburger U’s own Dean of Students said that “it would be a stretch to call that a degree in business administration.”

Diana LaPorta won 27% of the vote that year, which wasn’t enough to beat her opponent, Judy Conte, who reaped 68% of the ballots and enjoyed a resounding victory.

Though she lost the race, LaPorta’s determination was inspiring to many and fueled a debate which continues to affect many people around the world today: Is post-secondary schooling the only way to learn? And should we put more weight on formal education or real-life, professional experience?

In recent years, it seems that university degrees can’t keep up with the increasing demand for hands-on experience in the job market. Like McDonald’s, many companies took it upon themselves to train workers in a way that better fits our dynamic reality.

One such company, for example, is monday.com. The cloud-based management software launched an independent academy that offers subsidized, open-to-all, in-house certification programs meant to help those who enroll land a career in tech by acquiring the most relevant skills, in less time.

Formal higher education still holds its power, but practical experience is becoming more valuable and slowly chips away at its prestige. Online platforms from Coursera to Upword allow people to learn on their own and manage their knowledge better.

One thing is certain — whatever you write on your resume, make sure you can stand by it.