On a University

Graduation time reminds me of one particular university that I always wanted to visit if not actually attend. Chicago, Illinois is home to 29 universities, including one of the major research universities in the world, the University of Chicago (it also happens to be the most expensive university in the United States, but that’s another issue). Several more colleges and universities rest in the surrounding suburbs. One of those universities that calls Chicago home touches many lives around the world every day, and that’s the rest of this story.

Almost 300,000 people have graduated from this fine institution since it started in 1961. And how it started is a fairly interesting tale. A man named Fred Turner began the university in the basement room below a restaurant. Fourteen students were in the first class who matriculated there.

Now, Fred Turner didn’t possess any higher education degree but did graduate from Drake University and served a stint in the US Army in the 1950s. After his military service, Fred got a job as a line cook at a local eatery. That was the level of his background and qualifications to open a university. From that lowly (literally) location beneath the restaurant, Fred’s university quickly grew, and enrollment skyrocketed.

The institution of higher learning moved to a suburban location in Oak Brook, Illinois on an 80-acre, beautifully manicured campus that could accommodate the burgeoning student population. In 2018, the university moved to a brand-new, especially designed campus in West Loop because the Oak Brook campus simply couldn’t keep up with the demand for the number of applicants and admitted students.

Today, that university that began in the basement in Chicago with Fred the fry cook now boasts campuses in such varied international locations as Tokyo, London, Sydney, Munich, São Paulo, Shanghai, and even Moscow. The Shanghai branch of the institution is so selective, only 1% of all applicants are admitted.

In fact, all of the campuses are selective in their admissions. You actually have to be invited to attend this university–there is no open enrollment. “Learning today, leading tomorrow” is the acknowledged motto of this school, and–this will probably surprise you–tuition, room, and board are all absolutely free. Of course, there is a catch.

Yes, it costs absolutely nothing for qualified employees to attend McDonald’s Hamburger University.