McDonald's Has Plans to Offer PhDs (Really)

It's kind of irresistible that McDonald's has a training facility called Hamburger University that, according to this old MarketWatch article, actually seems to offer a degree in "Hamburgerology." Ha ha ha. But according to the Financial Times McDonald's is getting slightly serious about this education stuff and now has hopes to offer a full-blown phD. The FT reports:


McDonald's hopes to offer its own PhD, throwing down the ultimate challenge to the popular wisdom that the high-street fast-food chain creates nothing but low-paid, low-quality "McJobs" to replace high-skilled work in old manufacturing industries.

David Fairhurst, the group's "chief people officer", told the Financial Times: "One day I'd love to see us doing a PhD, I definitely think we should go as far as we can."

[...The chief people officer] said McDonald's had become an attractive employer both to graduates and other workers, in large part because of its training, with its status as an awarding body adding to the prestige of its qualifications.

And really, why not? My first thought on reading this was, "McDonald's is not a prestigious university and that bit about the 'chief people officer' must be a joke." But a lot of higher education is about correlation and not causation: Earning a fancy degree doesn't necessarily cause anyone to become smart or talented, but a fancy degree is a strong signalling mechanism. (This signalling mechanism is why it might be perfectly rational to go to Harvard instead of a less expensive  school, even if the difference in "practical skills" obtained would be slight relative to the difference in cost: Harvard is the stronger signal.)

So if it is in fact true that employers are starting to take McDonald's seriously "as an awarding body" -- adding to the "prestige of its qualifications" that it sounds like it's already built up -- then perhaps it would be fine to head there for a phD.

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Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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