Human Resources Degree

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What is Human Resources?

Human resources is an area of study and practice that prepares individuals for a career in business through the management of people, benefits packages, hiring practices, and the influencing the direction of policies that affect employees. Increasingly, human resources works with business administrators in determining business practices and how to better manage employees and their expectations, which in turn has led to an expanding role in the workplace.

Top Human Resources Degrees

If you are considering earning a degree or certificate in human resources, you will need to understand your options prior to applying for admissions.  The programs can range from undergraduate certificates to doctorate degrees in human resources online and in classroom.  With the myriad options available, we have grouped the degree programs by level to help you quickly connect with schools offering degree programs that may be best for you.

Human Resources Online Certificates

Online and on-site certificate programs in human resources are found in two different variations: graduate certificates and undergraduate certificates. The undergraduate certificates in human resources is designed to provide students with little or no experience in the field with foundational classes to get familiar with the field of study.  Basic courses in business, psychology, communications, and sociology will help establish a foundation for additional knowledge and skills.

On the other hand, a graduate certificate in human resources is a tool used by experienced working professionals and/or qualifying students.  A graduate certificate is often used to upskill, prepare for a job transition, stay current on trends in the marketplace, or help professionals remain competitive in the field.

Graduate certificates online or in a classroom will focus on a particular area of study such as law, personnel management, leadership skills, training & development, compensation & benefits, occupational safety & health, managing a diverse workplace, organizational culture, and international human resource management.

Human Resources Associate's Degree

An online associate degree in human resources is a 2-year degree granting program conferred as an Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS).  The program provides a mix of liberal arts education such as communications, philosophy, English composition, and math with core classes.

The core classes found in a human resources program will vary from school to school but will include general topics such as organizational design, communications, compensation, legal aspects, workforce planning, and development.  Students earning an associate’s degree in human resources will be equipped to continue on and earn a bachelor’s degree or join the workforce in an entry-level position or jobs such as a human resources specialist, advisor, recruiter, or job placement specialist.

Human Resources Bachelor's Degree

The bachelor’s degree in human resources can be earned online or in class.  A bachelor’s degree is a 4-year program for full-time students and will take longer for part-time students to complete the degree program as a function of course load and pace.   The bachelor’s degree is conferred as a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) depending on the school’s curricular design and accreditation requirements.

Much like an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree in human resources blends general education courses with core curriculum.  The core classes in a human resources degree will include classes such as: statistics, managerial accounting, financial accounting, international business, business law, corporate finance, principles of management, strategic planning, principles of marketing, human resources management, organizational ethics, operations management, principles of macroeconomics, compensation management, principles of microeconomics, and workforce planning.

Human Resources Master's Degree

An online master’s degree in human resources is conferred as a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) at most accredited colleges and universities.  The program will take 1-2 years to complete depending on the number of classes taken at a given time.  The master’s degree is a focused program in human resources intended to provide students with a highly specialized set of skills in a particular area of study.

Students can study to become specialists or a general human resource professionals.  Specializations include preparation for the following human resources certifications: Senior Certified Professional (SCP), Society for Human Resource Management Professional (SHRM-CP), Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), or Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR).

General human resources students will take upper-level classes such as strategic marketing, legal issues, managerial finance, business research methods, accounting for decision making, organizational design & structure, global economics, operations management, workforce planning, human resource development, and compensation management.

PhD in Human Resources

The classroom-based doctorate program or online degree in human resources is a 3-5 year program that includes a board-approved dissertation project.  The doctorate degree in human resource management is conferred as a PhD or a PhD in Business at the majority of schools.

Colleges will provide students with rigorous courses in upper-level programs such as: applied systems thinking, mechanics of decision making, research theory & design, organization behavior, strategic thinking, human capital development, qualitative reasoning, conflict resolution, quantitative reasoning, strategic allocation, supply chain management, quality management, and productivity.

Human Resources Requirements

A degree in human resources may obtained at various levels of education with some institutions providing programs that begins at the baccalaureate level. Such programs are relatively new, and focus on the increasing importance of human resources in the workplace.

Currently human resources as a specialization is often pursued primarily at the graduate degree level and is designed to offer growth in knowledge, abilities and skills to those already operating within the human resources field. This is an interdisciplinary degree combining social sciences, behavioral science and business.  Some courses that may be offered include:

  • Planning and Development
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Labor Law
  • Employee Health and Safety
  • Human Resource Management

Employment Opportunities for HR Managers

Human resource employees work in almost every industry and are responsible for hiring, firing, benefits and recruitment. Certification is available to those who seek to increase their skill set and earnings potential, but is not necessary. Over time the job has expanded to include various important tasks within the business environment.

These tasks include:

  • Increase Productivity
  • Enhance Morale
  • Improve Performance
  • Training
  • Limit Turnover

Most Popular Jobs for Human Resource Managers

Human resource workers may choose to specialize in a particular area of human resources. Such individuals will perform tasks as outlined by their specialization, utilizing specific skills and knowledge obtained through training to complete their assignments and perform their duties. Specializations are beneficial for individuals and businesses as they allow focus on specific areas without burdening an individual by having them deal with a large number of tasks in a variety of functions.

  • Employment Interviewers: Responsible for the hiring of individuals to positions within a given company. Interviewers will conduct interviews with candidates and will suggest candidates to employers based on the results of the interview.
  • Labor Relations Specialists: Responsible for developing contracts, discussing and evaluating employee grievances, working with labor unions on disputes, and assisting in determining wages, salaries, health care packages, pensions and more.
  • Placement Specialists: Responsible for identifying individuals that match the needs of companies. They are also known as headhunters. These individuals are typically privy to positions recently opened and not yet advertised, often seeking out qualified individuals to quickly fill the hole left by an the departure of a previous employee. Primarily specialize in higher level management positions, though some work at placement for middle and low level positions.
  • Recruitment Specialists: Responsible for identifying and vetting talented individuals through postings, job fairs, campus visits, and more. These individuals look for potential employees to fill out entry level positions, typically reviewing and hiring students out of college. Additional responsibilities typically include verifying information given on applications, contacting references, and making job offers.
  • Human Resources Generalist: These individuals fulfill many of the above stated roles in their day to day routine. They are generally employed by smaller companies due to necessity and convenience. These individuals have a strong understanding of the different facets of human resources, but do not specialize in any single part. Such individuals will have a multitude of skills due to the needs of the company.

Human Resources Salary & Outlook

The average salary for someone working in human resources varies widely based on position and specialization. For example, human resources managers average $106,910 per year where job analysis specialists average $54,000 per year.

Jobs in human resources are expected to grow at a rate of 13% which is twice the national average.  This growth will translate to some 46,600 job openings over the coming decade provide opportunities for employment and job growth.  Overall qualified individuals should be able to obtain work, particularly in larger organizations that require large human resources departments in order to maintain daily operations.

Largest Employers of Human Resource Managers

  • Management Companies           20,080
  • Local Government Agencies          8,110
  • Employment Services Firms         5,060
  • Medical and Surgical Hospitals    4,280
  • Computer Design Firms                 4,270

 States with the Highest Employment of Human Resource Managers

  • California           16,190
  • New York           10,100
  • Illinois                  9,020
  • Texas                    6,670
  • Massachusetts    5,090

Top Paying States for Human Resource Managers

  1. New Jersey                     $157,110
  2. District of Columbia     $149,170
  3. Rhode Island                  $147,890
  4. New York                        $142,720
  5. Colorado                         $149,530

Human Resources Associations

If you are interested in obtaining a human resource degree you may also want to consider a degree in business administration, human resources development, or international business.  More domain-specific information can be found by researching associations and organizations in HR.  We recommend starting with the SHRM, Management Association (MA), and the National Human Resources Association (NHRA).

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Career Summary: Human resources Major




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