Jobless and Undereducated? Suck It Up and Go to Hamburger University

Perhaps more annoying than any other adage of our time is the old "all English majors wind up flipping burgers." Like most oft-repeated truisms, it is grounded in reality, but it's a reality that can be avoided. The key to bypassing the post-college job crisis is to flip the burgers while you're still in college. Any work experience even the kind people make fun of can put you ahead of the job-hunting pack. 

Several major corporations, like Starbucks, McDonald's, Walmart, Jiffy Lube and others, are offering their workers training courses that can be used towards valuable college credit. Though enrolling in Hamburger University or Barista 101 (yes, those are the real names) sounds decidedly un-Ivy league, those courses can serve as valuable stepping stones for your career and education. 

Despite horror stories of graduates populating the unemployment line, students still face parental and societal pressure to start and finish college on time, which can be difficult to do while working. In many ways, it's a better idea to get started in the workforce and finish school concurrently, even if it means taking a bit longer than expected on the latter. And if your job offers training courses that help rack up expensive credits, why not take advantage? A course at McDonald's Hamburger University in Oak Park, Ill., can net up to 27 college credits towards an employee's associate's or bachelor's degree. The credits need to be approved by the American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT), a system set up for turning workplace learning into college credit. 

Of course, the learning you'll do at Hamburger U may not be on par with a year's worth of studying at a real school. But does it matter? If your goal is to get the degree and put it on your resume, once you graduate, it won't matter how you did it. What will matter, if you decide to apply to graduate school, is how well you did, and scoring some credits through job training may lessen your college course load and help keep up your GPA. 

And though it's not Harvard, the skills you'll pick up at one of these programs are valuable, especially to those who want to pursue business degrees or start their own companies. Students learn inventory, customer relations, finance, management, and ethics among other cornerstone aspects of business.

Yes, a mega-corporation offering education to create an army of enthusiastic Micky D's lifers does reek a bit of the company towns of the industrial revolution and the Chinese factory cities where employees live, eat, sleep, and work. But just because a system is set up like a funnel doesn't mean that those who enter it need to come out on the other side resigned to a life-long career at their college fast food job. Hamburger University head Kevin Clark says only 350 of the 5,000 managers who attend the program each year get their courses approved by the ACE for use toward college degrees. That's a shame, because opportunities like this are meant to be taken advantage of. 

If the idea of corporate education still sounds too much like a capitalist dystopia, look at it like this: what better way is there to take down a loathed system than to understand it from within by traveling into the belly of the beast, to the inner core of Hamburger University? Designed to nurture company ideals and useful skills, the system can also produce Hamburger diploma holders who turn against their alma mater and use their knowledge to pursue a less corporation-dominated world.