A degree in human resources opens many career opportunities, especially in the corporate world. The role of HR professionals is critical to the growth of an organization as they are the ones who reinforce employee productivity, engagement, and training and development—all of which benefit the organization one way or another. With HR professionals involved in every stage of the employment cycle and the different areas of employee-employer relationships, soft skills such as communication, decision-making, organizational skills, and critical thinking are essential to how well they perform their duties.
The importance of this degree is further reinforced when human resources degree jobs rank 35th among the 800 occupations in the US. with the strongest job prospects within this decade. These jobs, however, are only accessible to those with HR degrees. And if you are interested in pursuing this discipline, this guide will walk you through all the important details you need to know about human resources degree programs, from the human resources definition, how and where you can get them, and what types of degree and career await a human resources degree holder.
Human resources as an academic discipline have several branches of studies that revolve around managing and developing workforces. The programs under this field of study generally teach the underlying principles and methods of organizational psychology, labor relations, business ethics, behavioral science, dispute and conflict resolution, compensation and benefits, employee training and development, and more. This discipline also involves learning about the technologies and strategies used in organizing work and managing people.
Human resources degree offers a vast field of employment opportunities. Depending on the level of degree and experience you have acquired, you can qualify for various jobs from entry-level to specialized and managerial HR positions. Entry-level HR jobs include staffing coordinators and HR assistants (Indeed Editorial Team, 2020). Typically, they are in charge of prescreening applicants, keeping track of paperwork, filing documentation, recordkeeping, and other basic HR responsibilities (UpstartHR).
With a degree in human resources, you can also go for mid- and senior-level HR positions, which are more involved in developing strategies to keep the employees engaged and productive. The higher HR positions are also the ones in charge of overseeing the overall decision-making process and overseer of the recruiting process, employee training and development, payroll and compensation, benefits, and employee relations (Indeed Editorial Team, 2020).
Before we delve into the cost of human resources degree tuition and other expenses, it is important to take note of the current environment of the higher education system and how it affects the students. The pandemic has left a significant impact on how the education system works and also on how much it costs. With many universities and colleges closing down in 2020, classes have switched to an entirely remote setup. As a result, institutions have to issue partial tuition refunds and room and board fees, especially to those who enrolled to be in-campus students (DePietro, 2020).
A year after the COVID-19 outbreak was somehow disrupted, colleges and universities are now starting to reopen their doors in 2021. While a significant portion of students looks forward to getting some semblance of normalcy by returning to in-person classes, it is not the same for many others who are not financially ready to start or continue pursuing their college degrees. As of March 2021, undergraduate and community college enrollment fell to -5.9% and -11.3%, respectively—the lowest since the start of the pandemic (NSC Research Center, 2021). One of the main reasons behind the enrollment decline is the increasing cost of tuition and other fees (Kerr, 2021).
The cost of a human resources degree varies greatly depending on the level of degree, the type of institution. For example, a bachelor’s degree in human resources offered by in-state institutions can range from $32,760 to $75,315 (GetEducated, n.d.). It is important to remember these prices have already been adjusted for remote learning, which means room and board costs, as well as the cost of other university facilities, are no longer included.
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A degree in human resources gives you leverage in a highly favorable market. Despite the ongoing global crisis, jobs that require degrees in human resources discipline are thriving because of how valuable they are to the growth of corporate organizations. In terms of career development, associate and bachelor’s degree holders can further increase their potential to qualify for higher positions by taking specialized coursework and graduate programs relevant to managing human capital. And with more than 13,000 job openings projected yearly within 10 years (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020), pursuing human resources degrees is worth it.
The College Board, 2020
One of the biggest impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak is how it has abruptly and arguably permanently changed how the business industry operates. With the rapid and massive adoption of remote work, business organizations are forced to take all the necessary steps to help their employees transition smoothly. In the middle of this corporate mass exodus, HR professionals bear the burden of helping everyone adapt to the new environment and keeping employees motivated in their new workplaces. And with the HR department bearing more responsibilities, the demand for HR professionals is far from slowing down.
Human resources positions consistently rank among the leading careers in the U.S., with HR specialists taking the 17th spot on the list (U.S. News, 2021). This recognition is anchored on the vital role HR professionals play in the survival and growth of a business organization by ensuring that its employees—the company’s most valuable asset—are always motivated to perform their best. This is further asserted by Gomez-Mejia, Balkin, and Cardy who state that “human resources represent the single most important cost in many organizations.” According to them, “Organizational labor costs range from 36 percent in capital-intensive firms, such as commercial airlines, to 80 percent in labor-intensive firms, such as the U.S. Postal Service. How effectively a company uses its human resources can have a dramatic effect on its ability to compete (or survive) in an increasingly competitive environment” (Gomez-Mejia, Balkin, and Cardy, 2008).
Statistically, however, how much demand is there for human resources professionals? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for HR professionals within 10 years is higher than the national job growth average. The demand is particularly high in managerial positions, especially in the area of training and development, which is 7% higher than average. Meanwhile, the demand for human resources managers is 6% higher, and human resources specialists are 7% more in demand than average (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).
The job roles mentioned above often require at least a master’s degree and several years of work experience in the HR field. This, however, does not mean that job opportunities for non-graduate degree holders lag behind. In fact, there have been more than 82,000 jobs posted in the last 12 months for qualified HR generalists (Randstad USA, 2021), which further reinforces the important role they play in the day-to-day operations of the HR department.
Below is a list of job roles you can qualify for if you have a degree in human resources (Indeed Editorial Team, 2021):
The salary of a human resources professional depends on several factors. Among these is the level of HR position, the type of degree acquired, what certifications you have if any, relevant skills and work experience, as well as the number of years you have been working in the human resources field. Furthermore, the size of the company and the type of industry and location also affect an HR professional’s compensation rate.
As of 2021, the national average base pay for an entry-level HR position in the US is $54,411 a year (Glassdoor, 2021). Entry-level positions include HR assistant, recruiting coordinator, labor relations representative, HR associate, HR administrator, and others. For mid-tier HR positions, an HR specialist’s annual salary ranges from $51,082 to $65,620, including incentives and benefits (Salary.com, 2021). HR generalist, another mid-level HR position, has a median pay of $58,271 and up to $86,377, including benefits, such as disability, pension, 401K/403B, social security, etc (Salary.com, 2021).
When it comes to upper-level HR positions, recruitment managers can make a median pay of $114,227 (Salary.com, 2021). Moreover, HR managers’ median pay amounts to $121,220 per year or $58.28 per hour (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). HR directors, on the other hand, can receive a median pay of $160,874 (Salary.com, 2021).
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Human resources is a broad academic discipline that offers extensive degree options and academic specializations. In the list below, we will walk you through the different human resources degree types available and how each can help you prepare for a career in human resources.
1. Associate’s Degree in Human Resources
Average time to complete: 2 years
An associate degree in human resources equips students with the basic practical skills and knowledge to help them qualify for entry-level jobs. The focus of study in this degree level revolves around understanding human relations in the corporate setting, personnel recruitment and employee evaluation, basic business ethics, compensation and benefits, staff training, and others.
Some of the subjects or programs taught at this level are the principles of human resource management, employment law, and general business courses (Human Resources Edu, n.d.). By earning an associate degree in this discipline, students are also more prepared to pursue a bachelor’s degree in human resources. It is, however, important to note that this level is not among human resources degree prerequisites for students and HR professionals who plan to advance to an undergraduate or graduate degree.
Entry-level jobs: HR assistant, compensation and benefits assistant, HR generalist assistant, assistant, recruiter assistant (Human Resources Edu, n.d.)
2. Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources
Average time to complete: 4 years
Bachelor’s degree in human resources emphasizes developing the students’ management, critical thinking, problem-solving capabilities, and understanding the use of technology in human resources.
Common programs under this degree include core business classes, such as economics, finance, business operations, leadership and management, and human relations. Its core curriculum also includes courses in communication and information systems, employment law, collective bargaining, as well as talent acquisition and hiring.
As a dynamic field, a bachelor’s degree in human resources can set students in three different career focuses. The first option would be a Bachelor of Science in Human Resources for students whose strengths and interests lean more toward organizational structure and policies, as well as resolving human resources issues. This degree program is also more focused on the math and science aspects of the discipline.
A bachelor of arts degree, on the other hand, is ideal for students who are more interested in having a liberal arts and humanities aspect of human resources. Among the courses this degree program requires are psychology, sociology, economics, and courses in general education (Human Resources Degrees, 2021).
Lastly, for students who would like to specialize in the leadership aspect of human resources but also want to have a broad business foundation, a Bachelor of Business Administration in Human Resources Management is the degree they are looking for. As a more business-oriented degree, the coursework covered here includes finance, management, marketing, and more.
Entry-level jobs: HR generalist, recruiter, talent acquisition, HR analyst
3. Master’s Degree in Human Resources
Average time to complete: 18 months to 2 years (Masters in Human Resources, n.d.)
Getting a master’s degree in human resources boosts an HR professional’s opportunities for career growth. Unlike a bachelor’s degree that focuses more on developing relevant human resources degree skills, a master’s degree hones an HR professional’s leadership capabilities. The master’s degree curriculum covers communication programs, leadership and management, business law and ethics, finance, marketing, and others.
HR professionals and undergraduate students can also earn specializations while taking a master’s degree in human resources. Some of these specializations are in the areas of project management, labor, and collective bargaining, employment and labor law, and HR leadership and ethics.
Students and professionals also have the option to take Master of Science in Human Resources Management (MSHRM), or Master of Business Administration with a concentration on human resources. Although both touch on the fundamentals of human resources, MSHRM is more ideal for those who want to establish themselves as HR professionals. Meanwhile, MBA fits those who want more flexibility in terms of career options, especially outside the human resources field.
High-level positions: HR manager, compensation and benefits manager, HR specialists, training and development managers.
4. Doctoral Degree in Human Resources
Average time to complete: 4 to 5 years
HR doctorate degrees focus on research, strategic, and advanced leadership aspects of human resources. This degree level also comes in several forms, such as Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), and Doctor of Business Administration (DBA).
Depending on the concentration, a doctorate in human resources often requires learners to take organizational and workforce development, advanced theoretical foundations of human resources, the ethical framework of human resource practices, and others.
Regardless of the doctorate learners want to pursue, they are all required to take quantitative and/or qualitative research techniques. Just like other doctorate degrees, HR doctoral degree programs heavily involve research and dissertation.
Traditionally, relevant classes take place on-campus, but because of the current pandemic, HR doctoral degree programs are currently offered online.
High-level positions: HR management consultant, industrial-organizational psychologist, business teacher/professor.
5. Certificate in Human Resources
Average time to complete: 2 hours to 7 days
Human resources certifications refer to the credentials students or HR professionals can receive from authorized institutions. While it is true that career advancement in the HR field is possible even without certifications, these extra credentials give an edge to those vying for higher positions by improving their core competencies and having a documented proof of specializations. Furthermore, there also are employers that require specific certifications as proof that an applicant is qualified for the role.
There are different certifications across all degree levels that students and HR professionals can get. One of these certifications is the Associate Professional in Human Resources (APHR™). This certification is ideal for those who are interested in applying for entry-level HR positions but do not have any HR-related work experience. Students are also qualified to take this certification as long as they are high school graduates. (Pope, 2021)
When it comes to certifications for career advancement, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers the SHRM Certified Professional certificate (SHRM®-CP). This certification is available even to professionals with bachelor’s or graduate degrees that are not related to human resources (SHRM, n.d).
For HR professionals who would like to get their specializations certified, some of the certifications available are Certified Professional in Learning and Performance (CPLP) for those who work in employee learning and performance development. Another is the Associate Professional in Talent Development Credential (APTD), which is created for HR professionals who specialize in talent management. (Pope, 2021)
International certifications are also available to those who live outside the US but aspire to work with teams that are spread across the globe. The Associate Professional in Human Resources–International™ (APHR™–International™) is the ideal certification for non-US residents. And the good news is, this certification also does not require HR-related work experience as long as you pass the assessment and other requirements. (Pope, 2021)
Entry-level jobs: Recruiter, HR generalist, employee relations associate
Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020
As institutions of higher education, colleges and universities require documentation or proof to make sure that the students applying for degrees are fully prepared to advance to the next level of learning. The requirements vary across each degree level and there are also instances when a university or college may have admission requirements that are unique to their institution. Furthermore, taking into consideration the ongoing impact of the pandemic on higher education, it is important to review the changes in the admission requirements and processes of colleges and universities.
Below are some of the general requirements to apply for a college degree.
1. Proof of graduation. A high school diploma is one of the standard requirements of Institutions of higher education for new students as proof of having completed all the necessary coursework in preparation for college studies. In the absence of a diploma, a GED transcript will do, as well as other certified proof of completion provided by the school.
2. Transcript. Academic performance is another important factor in college admissions. As proof, colleges and universities require a copy of a transcript of records to verify the students’ previous academic experience. For students who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in human resources, a minimum of 2.0 to 3.0 GPA is required in many of the colleges and universities in the US. Some institutions, however, may have a different minimum GPA requirement.
3. Coursework. This requirement mostly applies to students or professionals pursuing a graduate degree in human resources. To qualify for a master’s degree program or doctorate in this discipline, a student or professional must have first completed the required coursework in the bachelor’s degree program. Coursework requirements may also vary depending on the concentration (SHRM, 2017).
4. SAT or ACT score. Either test score is used by colleges not only for admissions but also for merit-based scholarships. The majority of colleges also do not prefer one over the other, so it is up to the students to decide which test they are more confident to take in preparation for their college application.
5. Other requirements. Among other requirements students should prepare for their college application are the application form. For students who plan to apply to different colleges and universities, a platform called CommonApp can help them send their applications to more than 900 colleges across the country.
Another requirement would be the recommendation letters. Not all academic institutions require these but some may ask for 2 to 4 letters of recommendation from teachers or professors, school counselors, managers, etc., as part of the admission requirement.
Furthermore, an application fee is required by most colleges. The cost varies per college or university, but the average cost falls between $42 to $78 (Kerr, 2020).
1. Communication skills. The human resources discipline heavily revolves around communicating and interacting with people. For students who are planning to apply for a degree in human resources, having strong oral and written communication skills is definitely an advantage.
2. Analytical skills. Human resources involve understanding data and statistics, especially when it comes to identifying people and organizational issues. Having a strong ability to grasp business data also plays a vital role in learning how to strategically plan the workforce and make evidence-based decisions. To help improve this skill set, students can take HR analytics coursework, such as quantitative analysis for business decisions, statistics, and others.
3. Advanced technological skills. Unlike before, human resources now heavily involve the use of information technology. While students who want to take a degree in human resources may possess computer literacy, having knowledge and skills in the function of cloud technology and other platforms utilized in the HR field is a must.
4. Strong problem-solving capabilities. The capability to identify and resolve issues is a vital part of HR practices. To further enhance this skill, students are required to take HR management, organizational behavior, principles of people management, and other relevant subjects.
Human resources programs may not be created equal but most of them are designed to hone analytical minds and develop strong decision-making skills. While the majority of human resources programs require the study of HR management, compensation and benefits, labor laws, and training and development, some programs give students an option to take specialized courses through their electives.
1. Available specializations
When choosing the right human resources program, it is not enough to just look at the courses that aim to teach students fundamental knowledge and basic human resources principles. Students may also want to consider the specialized courses accessible through the programs they will choose. Human resources specialized courses cover the topics of labor relations and collective bargaining, conflict resolution, human resources budgeting, etc., with students gaining more advanced and focused knowledge.
One important factor students and professionals consider when it comes to selecting degree programs is accreditation. For many, accreditation is a quality indicator but not many know the difference between regional accreditation and accreditation specific only to a particular degree program. The regional accreditation given to academic institutions usually covers all the degree programs they offer. Meanwhile, some universities have separate accreditation credentials for their degree programs.
For students and professionals who would like to make sure that the human resources degree program they are going to take are accredited, they can verify them through accreditation organizations, such as SHRM, Distance Education Accrediting Commission, Accreditation Council for Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, and others. (Human Resources MBA, n.d.)
3. Student: Teacher ratio
The student-teacher ratio is one of the strongest indicators of a student’s academic performance (The Hun School of Princeton, 2019). Back in 2014, the average number of students per faculty member in liberal arts colleges was 11. National universities, on the other hand, had a 16:1 student-teacher ratio (Frieman, 2016). Meanwhile, the national average for US colleges is 18 students for every faculty member (Best Value Schools, 2020).
The numbers above, however, were from a time when college education took place inside the campus. Now that virtual education has become the main method of learning, the student-teacher ratio has also changed. For the online class set up to be conducive for learning, the student-teacher ratio should fall in on the national average of 16:1.
4. Financial aid options
College education comes with a high price, which is one of the main reasons why the average amount of debt of students who go to colleges in the US fall between five to six figures by the time they graduate. The school year 2011/2012 recorded the highest total amount of loans given to students, which reached $131 billion (College Board, 2020).
Education debt or student loans, however, is just one of the ways college students can pay for their college education. Other financial aid sources for undergraduate and graduate students include Federal Student Aid, grants, and scholarships. There is also the work-study jobs program, which is ideal for students who are willing to do part-time jobs. For students who have served in the military or have a spouse or parents who serve in the military, they can also qualify for financial aid. (Federal Student Aid, n.d.).
And to help students during the pandemic, the US Department of Education extended the COVID-19 emergency relief flexibilities for those who have federal student loans until September 2021. These emergency relief flexibilities cover the suspension of loan payments, not charging students any interest rate, and suspending collections on defaulted loans. (Federal Student Aid, n.d.).
Source: College Board, 2020
Getting a degree in human resources is like picking the most direct path toward a career in the HR field. It is not, however, the only way to become a human resources professional. In the list below, we have gathered other majors that are related to and can get your career started in human resources.
The disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely changed the way businesses operate—and probably permanently. During the sudden transition from office-based operations to work from home, HR professionals became the unsung heroes of a workforce that was caught very much unprepared. While experience can definitely help HR professionals anticipate potential uncertainties and get ready for them, a global pandemic is definitely not something the modern HR field has enough experience with to be properly equipped for when it happens. But it has happened, and in the absence of experience, one can rely on knowledge.
In a webinar conducted by the Pennsylvania State University, HR professionals shared how their degree has become invaluable in helping them navigate the unprecedented changes and challenges brought by the pandemic. According to them, their degree has served them beyond laying down the groundwork for career growth and success. Their degree in human resources has also prepared them to support their organizations in the most uncertain times.