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Online human resources programs

Every good business needs an array of skilled human resources personnel to help keep their labor force strong. Graduates of campus-based and online human resources programs are well-positioned to launch a stable career as operatives, managers or directors of HR at a wide range of organizations, from regional non-profits to multinational corporations.

If you're already employed, chances are that a full-time, traditional education might be difficult to fit into your schedule. Depending on the institution you choose, there may be part-time, weekend, evening or online human resources programs available to help you work around your responsibilities and finish your degree. Here's a table that shows how many campus-based and online human resources programs are available in eight regions of the country, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES):

Region No. of schools with HR programs No. of schools with online HR programs
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 54 18
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 23 13
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 58 26
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 86 48
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 139 63
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 149 53
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 126 40
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 33 12
Total (all 50 states) 668 273

Entry-level human resources degrees

Most traditional and online schools for human resources offer programs designed to suit students at all points on the academic spectrum, from experienced students who already have a few years of college under their belts to those who have yet to set foot in a university classroom. Here's some detail about the various HR degrees available at the undergraduate level:

  • Associate degrees - An associate degree in human resources can be a great option for someone who plans to pursue a full bachelor's degree but wants to take it slowly at first. Degrees in HR at this level tend to consist of introductory courses in business administration, training and development concepts, compensation and benefits structures and accounting. The length of an associate degree program depends on how much time you can give to it each term, with full-time students able to earn their degree in two years or less and part-time study taking somewhat longer.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Human resources assistants and clerks may be able to find work in the field without a bachelor's degree, but candidates for specialist and manager positions are typically expected to hold a degree at this level or greater. Courses taken at this level tend to go a few steps beyond the introductory information covered in associate degree programs, and additional subjects of study such as organizational behavior, human resource strategies, supervisory management, business culture and communication, organization theory, basic finance and employment law are also included.
  • Non-degree study - Some campus-based and online schools for human resources offer abbreviated programs of study that cover basic HR principles and lead to non-degree certificates. Certificates in human resources are typically used to help mid-career professionals get the background they need to shift into recruiting, HR or training and development positions in their existing industry.

Thanks to the largely text- and lecture-based nature of HR coursework, undergraduate classes in online human resources programs tend to cover the same sort of material as those offered in the brick-and-mortar classroom. Some schools may also give you the option to construct a hybrid or blended program, combining online and traditional courses as best fits your schedule.

Advanced-degree human resources programs

Candidates for certain high-value managerial or directorial positions in HR may require a combination of advanced education and several years' experience on the job. Here's what you can expect if you go on to study human resources above the bachelor's level:

  • Master's degree programs - Master's degrees at traditional and online schools for human resources tend to go deeper into detail on a range of important HR concepts such as collective bargaining, strategic organization development, workplace motivation, ethics of employment and diversity, global HR management and labor-management relations. Programs may be offered as Master of Arts (MA) degrees in human resource management or Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees with a concentration in HR, with the latter typically containing an extra portion of coursework in general business principles.
  • Doctorate programs - If you decide you want to contribute to the HR profession as a scholar, teacher or researcher, the doctoral HR degree is there to put the finishing touches on the training you need. Typical program outcomes include extensive familiarity with research methods and techniques, understanding of top-level leadership concepts and an expanded, interdisciplinary perspective on the challenges and opportunities of human resources theory and practice.
  • Graduate certificates - If you aren't sure you need a full-fledged master's degree but want to get some additional education after graduating with a bachelor's, many campus-based and online schools for human resources offer graduate certificate programs that require as few as 15 credits to complete. Some credits earned en route to a graduate certificate may also be transferred to MA or MBA programs, if you decide to move toward a full graduate degree.

Online programs are also available at the graduate level, and the variety of business courses from which you can choose the elective portion of your online human resources degree easily rivals the array available in traditional settings. MBA degrees with a human resources focus are widely available online as well.

Q&A with experts

We reached out to academics as well as professionals to get some balanced insight into the value of HR degrees in the workplace. Here's a little wisdom from either side:

Fred Schebesta, author and CEO of Finder, an Australian product comparison startup

Why would you encourage someone to consider a human resources degree?

HR is an increasingly cornerstone degree due to the increased 'human-ness' of brands, suits and teams. When everything needs to have an approachable 'face' in modern business, HR will only soar as a skill set.

Do you have a degree in human resources or a related field? What would have been helpful to know when you were looking into your own education?

Through my degree is in finance, I built two solely online businesses and oversee every single hiring. Having a degree in HR is something I wished I had aimed for, especially when it comes to dealing with managers infinitely more skilled in their craft than I am able to understand.

Is a dedicated bachelor's degree in human resources necessary to get started in an HR career? What other subjects of study can lead to jobs in HR?

Anything that is managerial or strongly related to inter-personal skills can bleed into HR, although a degree could be a better option if you have the opportunity. This is because while some HR practices can be picked up from experience, a degree can minimise the number of 'learnings through failure' as you're theoretically prepared for negative scenarios.

Dean Gualco, human resources program coordinator at Colorado State University Global Campus

What are the most common educational paths for students seeking a human resources career?

Most students interested in a career in human resources typically obtain their bachelor's in human resources or a similar business degree with an HR specialization. However, those seeking to progress through an organization into management and leadership positions are increasingly obtaining a master's degree in human resources in order to gain the more advanced knowledge necessary to excel at complex organization. The bachelor's degree provides the foundation of knowledge within the profession, while the master's degree focuses on the applicability and strategic utilization of this knowledge to make long-range and pervasive decisions on employee management.

What surprised you the most about your own experience with human resources training?

First, the information obtained through human resources courses has made me a better job applicant and employee (e.g., learning the fundamentals of interviewing, insight into the value of a performance evaluation, to offer two examples). Second is the wide array of jobs available to those with a human resource background, including chief executive officers and senior government officials.

Finally is the ability to use my human resources knowledge to truly help others (applicants, employees, supervisors, etc.) better perform their job and, as a result, progress through the organization and obtain higher positions with great incomes. For those interested in helping their fellow citizen, few professions other than human resources offer that chance.

Types of human resources careers

A whole world of HR careers begins to open up once you've earned your bachelor's degree, although managerial positions tend to require candidates to have a few years of experience on the job before they can be considered. Here's a table of prospective jobs for graduates of traditional and online schools for human resources, featuring some occupational data published by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2014)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Human resources specialist $62,590 5 percent 482,000 Bachelor's degree
Training specialist $61,530 7 percent 252,600 Bachelor's degree
Job analysis specialist $64,380 4 percent 84,700 Bachelor's degree
Human resources manager $114,140 9 percent 122,500 Bachelor's degree
Compensation and benefits manager $118,670 6 percent 16,900 Bachelor's degree
Development manager $111,030 7 percent 32,900 Bachelor's degree

Common misconceptions about human resources degrees and careers

Human resources programs aren't as well-understood as they could be. If you're looking into a human resources degree yourself, make sure you aren't approaching your search with any of these mistaken notions in mind:

Misconception: You can make a career in HR without any formal training.

  • Fact: While it's true that entry-level HR jobs are likely to be available to applicants with a wide range of degrees, moving up the career ladder tends to require at least a certificate's worth of human resources coursework at the college level. If you get into HR incidentally and decide you want to make a career out of it, find out if your employer offers tuition reimbursement or other benefits for degree-seekers in HR, marketing, management and other subjects that can add value to their work for the company.

Misconception: Human resources careers are all the same.

  • Fact: A fair percentage of human resources managers and specialists may work in typical office environments, but the wide-reaching necessity of the profession means that there are some unique and interesting settings out there for HR professionals with interdisciplinary training. For example, an HR grad who's trained in computer programming may be a perfect fit for the personnel office at Google or Microsoft, someone with a background in nursing or physical therapy might find their best fit in a medical clinic and a graduate with an early childhood education degree might be able to parlay HR training into a job behind the scenes at a children's museum or elementary school.

Misconception: Online human resources programs don't provide as complete an education as degree plans offered on campus.

  • Fact: Whether they offer their programs on campus or online, schools for human resources each construct and deliver their curriculum according to established educational standards. As long as you make sure that your online human resources program is accredited by a reputable agency, you can be confident that the education it gives you will be at least on par with the instruction available at traditional schools.

How can I enroll in an online human resources degree program?

If you're looking to learn more about campus-based and online human resources degree programs, look through the listings below, pick out a few that look right for you and reach out to the school's admissions department. Registrars and other administrators at each individual institution should have all the enrollment and admissions information you need.

Sources:
1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed December 20, 2015, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. School pages, accessed December 20, 2015: Human Resources Associate Degree Courses, Bryant & Stratton College, http://www.bryantstratton.edu/online/degree-programs/associates/human-resources/courses; Online Human Resources Associate Degree, Penn Foster College, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/business-management/human-resources-management-associate-degree; Human Resources Management Degree Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/bs-in-business-studies/human-resource-management; Online Bachelor's Degree in Human Resource Management, University of Maryland University College, http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/human-resource-management-major.cfm; Human Resources Degree Online, California Southern University, http://www.calsouthern.edu/online-business-degrees/online-bachelors-degree-business/human-resources-degree-online/; Human Resources Certificate Program, Grantham University, http://www.grantham.edu/online-degrees/human-resources/; Certificate Program in Human Resource Management, University of California Berkeley, http://extension.berkeley.edu/cert/hrm.html; Human Resources Management (MA), Webster University, http://www.webster.edu/catalog/current/graduate-catalog/degrees/human-resources-management.html; MS in Human Resources - Curriculum, Loyola University Chicago, http://luc.edu/quinlan/mba/ms-in-human-resources/index.shtml; MBA in Human Resources (HR) Management, Keller Graduate School of Management, DeVry University, http://www.keller.edu/graduate-degree-programs/mba-program/mba-in-human-resources.html; MBA in Human Resource Management Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/masters/mba-online/mba-in-human-resources; Human Resource Development PhD Degree, The University of Texas at Tyler, http://www.uttyler.edu/academics/phd/human-resource-development-degree.php; Online Doctor of Education in Human Resource and Workforce Development Education, University of Arkansas, https://online.uark.edu/programs/doctor-education-human-resource-workforce-development-education.php; Doctor of Philosophy in Business Management, Human Resource Management Specialization, Capella University, http://www.capella.edu/online-degrees/phd-human-resource-management/; Curriculum, Graduate Certificate in Human Resources Management Online, Northeastern University, http://www.northeastern.edu/online/degrees/graduate-certificate-human-resources/curriculum.php; Human Resources (Graduate Certificate), Grantham University, http://www.grantham.edu/online-degrees/hr-graduate-certificate/; Program Sheet, Graduate Human Resource Management Certificate, University of Phoenix, http://www.phoenix.edu/content/dam/altcloud/doc/programs/one-sheet/g-hrm.pdf
3. Human Resources Assistants, Except Payroll and Timekeeping, Occupational Information Network, accessed December 20, 2015, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-4161.00;
4. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed December 20, 2015: Human Resources Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/human-resources-specialists.htm; Compensation, Benefits, and Job Analysis Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/compensation-benefits-and-job-analysis-specialists.htm; Training and Development Specialists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/training-and-development-specialists.htm; Human Resources Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm; Compensation and Benefits Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/compensation-and-benefits-managers.htm; Training and Development Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/training-and-development-managers.htm;
5. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed December 20, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm;
6. Interview, Fred Schebesta, conducted December 15, 2015, Interview, Dean Gualco, conducted December 23, 2015

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