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Human Resources Degree Programs by Program Level

Oct 10, 2019

There are several online and on-campus undergraduate and graduate level programs in the field of human resources. Associate's degree programs in human resources prepare students for entry-level positions as recruiters and human resources assistants, while bachelor's and master's programs can lead to human resources management positions.

Essential Information

Human resources is a field devoted to maintaining employment records, overseeing hiring and resolving employee issues. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs usually include courses in several areas of business and provide students with a background in compensation, labor relations, hiring and employment law. Master's programs in the field are usually more focused on advanced human resources issues, such as employment law, employee benefits administration, human resource cost control and organizational conflict management. Programs at all levels are available online, and some also offer specializations in areas like recruiting and compensation specialism.

Graduates of human resources programs may choose to pursue industry certifications, such as those from the World at Work Society of Certified Professionals or the Society for Human Resource Management. Applicants to undergraduate programs are expected to have a high school diploma or GED. Most grad programs want applicants to have at least a 'B' average on all undergraduate coursework.


Associate Degree in Human Resources Management

There are several human resources programs for students who want to specialize in helping organizations hire, train and manage a strong workforce. Students who complete these programs are prepared for entry-level positions in management and personnel administration. Students will learn about labor relations, compensation, hiring, and laws that relate to human resources issues. Most associate's degree programs include general education, such as English, math and social studies, in addition to classes in business management and human resources. Some class titles may be:

  • Information systems in human resources
  • Employee training and development
  • Applying psychology to current issues
  • Fundamental concepts of employment law
  • Hiring processes

Bachelor's Degree in Human Resources Management

A bachelor's degree program in human resources management will expose students to advanced study in human resource issues, along with general education coursework. Many schools also admit applicants with at least 2.5 GPA in high school coursework and ACT scores of 19 or higher. Students in this type of a program will learn about many aspects of business in addition to advanced study into employee training and development, compensation, employee law and negotiations. Business training includes studies of finance and accounting, management principles, marketing and computer information systems. There are even a few institutions that offer a combined Master of Business Administration (MBA) along with a Bachelor of Science in Human Resources Management. Students will take classes in business, human resources, psychology and general education, such as English, science, math and humanities. Some human resource class titles may be:

  • Analysis of human resources management
  • Business employment law
  • The history and implications of organized labor
  • Global issues of human resources
  • Negotiation strategies

Master's Degree in Human Resources Management

Graduate-level human resources programs are usually tailored to meet the needs of professionals in the field who want to move into management roles or pursue research and possibly teaching positions. Those who enroll in this kind of program will learn advanced techniques to finding and keeping quality employees, and study common human resources issues in today's global economy. Maintaining diversity in the workforce, and training and developing quality workers while controlling costs are just two of the topics explored in a typical master's degree program. Students will also get the opportunity to complete a research project or help solve a real human resource problem or both. Some class titles may include:

  • Organizational conflict and management techniques
  • Laws relating to employment
  • Controlling human resources costs
  • Design and administration of employee benefits
  • Finding the right people for the right jobs

Popular Career Options

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), most people enter the human resources field with a bachelor's degree. However, those who earn an associate's degree will be considered for many entry-level jobs. Earning a bachelor's degree in human resources, along with significant work experience or certifications, will prepare individuals for many labor-related jobs in organizations. Some possible job titles may be:

  • Human resources specialist
  • Recruiter
  • Benefits assistant
  • Human resources assistant
  • Compensation technician
  • Training and development manager
  • Compensation specialist
  • Benefits analyst
  • Job analysis specialist
  • Labor relations manager

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median salary for human resources manager at $113,300 as of May 2018 (www.bls.gov). These professionals are expected to have a 7% increase in available jobs from 2018-2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

Continuing Education

Many associate's degree holders will transfer into bachelor's degree programs. Professional organizations can be a source of continuing education and certification for professionals who work in specialized areas of human resources. Those who want to move into managing human resources departments or pursue advanced study in human resources and business issues can enroll in several master's degree programs. Alternatively, many institutions offer shorter certificate programs for those who want to specialize in human resources but can't commit to a longer master's degree program.

Certification Information

There are many professional associations or organizations that offer continuing education or certification opportunities. The Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org), in cooperation with the HR Certification Institute (www.hrci.org), offers several certifications, including the Professional in Human Resources and the Senior Professional in Human Resources. The American Society for Training and Development (www.astd.org) has a Certified Professional in Learning and Performance credential for those interested in specializing in this area of human resources. Requirements include at least three years professional experience and passing a rigorous exam.

The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (www.ifebp.org) has a designation for three areas of specialization, including group benefit, retirement and compensation. Also, the World at Work Society of Certified Professionals (www.worldatwork.org) offers credential programs in the areas of compensation, benefits, global remuneration and sales compensation. All certifications are earned by passing the required examination. Like the many other professional associations, this organization also has conferences and other opportunities for professional learning.

Students interested in studying human resources can find a number of educational opportunities at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Some programs have specialization options, such as in compensation or recruiting, and there are several professional certification options for graduates.

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