Human Resources Degree Programs Forming Successful Teams in the Workplace

What do you do? Human resources professionals take that classic question a step further. They find out not only what workers do, but what they do best. They are experts at discovering and nurturing employees’ skills and then leveraging them to serve a company’s needs. Human resources degree programs prepare students to understand the ins and outs of labor laws, employee benefits, team-building and proper hiring and termination practices. Use this guide to explore options for human resources degree programs and careers.

Human Resources at a Glance

From jobs with small local shops to international companies, human resources careers are available throughout the world of business. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree, although associate degrees can open the door to some entry-level jobs.

A career in human resources entails a wide variety of duties designed to help an organization run smoothly, including recruiting and hiring employees, strategic planning for employee placement, implementing training programs, and administering employee benefits and compensation. The work requires professionals to show meticulous attention to detail while still understanding the broader picture, as well as skills in mediating disputes and communicating with people throughout the company.

A study of 30
individual cases showed that
when a worker left a company,
it cost an average of 20
percent of that worker’s
annual salary to find a

Almost 80 percent of
people looking for a
job use social media
during their job

People care about who
they work for. Sixty-nine
percent of job seekers,
including those who are
unemployed, would refuse to
work with a company with a
bad reputation.

Each year, about
20 percent of
workers voluntarily
leave their jobs, while
another 17 percent
are fired or laid off.

I would have to say that the most rewarding parts of my career in HR have
been developing and coaching a team that is high-functioning, and creating an HR infrastructure that leadership looks to for help in difficult situations. Building a successful team and creating new systems and processes that add to the organization’s value and perception of HR is what makes me proudest.

Jason Miller

Human Resources Degree Options: In-Depth

Human resources degree programs are available at every college level, from associate to graduate degree programs. Although an associate degree will suffice for some entry-level work, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have earned their bachelor’s degree in human resources. Students who choose to enter graduate courses usually do so with an eye on management positions. Here’s what students can expect from each degree level.

Human Resources Associate Degrees

Type of Schools:

Community colleges

Time to Complete:

18 to 24 months

Career Opportunities:

Training and development specialist, compensation and benefits analyst, human resources generalist, employee recruitment specialist

An associate degree program is designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in human resources as well as advancement into a four-year bachelor’s program. Incoming students must have a high school diploma or GED. Students complete about 60 to 65 credits in areas such as labor law, recruiting, office dynamics, workplace gender issues, and organizational personnel policy. Most students complete their degrees in two years, although some programs allow an accelerated course load so students can graduate in 18 months.

Students who choose a human resources associate degree can expect to take a variety of courses. Some of the courses that can be found in most programs are described below.

Human Resources Management

Covers the manager’s role in implementing company policies as they relate to hiring, firing, personnel development, worker motivation, and common employee issues.

Employee Compensation

Different forms of compensation and benefits, as well as their applications, are examined in this course.

Introduction to Financial Accounting

Students learn accounting terminology and the basic theories and skills used in organizational accounting, such as how to create an income statement, and methods of analyzing a company’s financial performance.

The Business Legal Environment

Examines how laws and regulations at all levels of government shape how a business operates.

Human Resources Bachelor’s Degrees

Type of Schools:

Four-year colleges and universities

Time to Complete:

Four years

Career Opportunities:

Human resources manager, human resources specialist, compensation and benefits specialist, human resources generalist

Admission Requirements:

Students enrolling in a human resources bachelor’s degree program will need a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the individual program, SAT or ACT scores and a high school transcript may also be required for admission.

Once enrolled, students will usually take four years to complete a course load of about 120 credits. The curriculum includes general education requirements as well as specialized courses covering areas such as compensation and benefits, recruitment, negotiation, and occupational health and safety. After graduating, students will be ready for entry-level positions in human resource management. They are also eligible to sit for the Assurance of Learning Assessment exam, administered by the professional organization the Society for Human Resource Management.

In addition to general education courses, such as mathematics, English and history, students in bachelor’s degree programs can expect to take classes similar to those listed below:

Business Ethics

Different ethical philosophies and their practical approaches are taught in this class. Students examine how various ethical philosophies are applied to everyday business and employee issues.

Introduction to Finance

The fundamentals of business financial concepts, such as present value, risk versus return, and business valuation are explored in this course.

Organizational Development

The worker dynamics in organizations are reviewed from both a theoretical and practical perspective. Students learn how employees fit within a company, given its policies, management techniques and overall goals.

Employment Law

Covers laws, regulations and statutes that govern the rights and liabilities of both workers and employers. How a company operates, including how employees complete their job tasks, will be studied within the legal regulatory framework.

Graduate Degrees in Human Resources

Type of Schools:

Four-year universities

Time to Complete:

About two years, but depends on the program and student’s background

Career Opportunities:

Human resources manager, compensation and benefits manager, training and development specialist, human resources specialist

Master’s Degrees

The most common master’s program for those interested in human resources is the Master of Science in human resources, although students may also choose a human resources concentration within another graduate degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Once enrolled full-time, students can expect to take two years to complete the program, although students with significant human resources experience may be able to bypass some course requirements. Programs typically range from 30 to 35 credits and cover courses such as international human resources management, employee management, data analysis, and employee benefits.

Admission Requirements Admission requirements vary depending on the program, but a bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum. Some schools will require GMAT or GRE test scores, while others require several years of work experience.

Doctorate Degrees

Students can also pursue a doctoral degree in human resource management, combining research and theory with everyday practice. Doctoral students generally complete a dissertation project to explore issues such as the psychology of the workplace, the influence of technology on employee performance, or cost-saving measures that can improve the bottom line.

Admission Requirements Almost all doctorate programs in human resources require applicants to already hold a master’s degree. Other requirements vary from school to school, with some asking for GMAT or GRE scores, and some leaving these scores out of the admissions packet. Interviews, resumes and letters of recommendation are other common elements required for admission to doctorate in human resources programs.

At the graduate level, courses cover more advanced topics that are tailored to high-level decision making and management. Some sample courses are described below.

Employee Planning

Students learn how to make long-term employment decisions for an organization by taking into account human nature, workplace politics, and cultural considerations.

Business Profitability

By examining financial and accounting documents and principles, students gain skills in formulating long-term strategic employment decisions.

Collective Bargaining

Examines the history of organized labor, as well as current concepts and regulations, and how they affect an organization’s employment decisions.

Employee Training

Students apply human resource, psychological and social principles to create effective training sessions for employees.

Key Markers of a Standout HR Program

When choosing a human resources degree program, there are several factors to consider. Making a ‘must-have’ list allows students to narrow down the many options and create a shortlist of schools worth further exploration. Students should look for:

  • Accreditation

    This is the process by which a third party examines a school or program to make sure it meets minimum standards of quality. While there are no organizations that specifically accredit human resources programs, students should check that the school itself has earned regional or national accreditation. For a list of accrediting organizations recognized by the United States Department of Education, visit the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

  • Preparation for certification

    Although certification isn’t required for a career in human resources, it does help with professional advancement. Many schools that offer degrees in human resources formulate the curriculum so graduates will be prepared to take certification exams such as the Society for Human Resource Management Assurance of Learning Assessment, SHRM Certification Exam, or the HR Certification Institute Exam.

  • Financial aid

    Tuition and fees are major considerations when choosing a school. However, students may be able to significantly cut their costs by finding a school that offers scholarships or other forms of financial aid, or allows students to attend part-time while they continue working to help defray expenses.

  • Electives offered

    Many human resources programs allow students to focus on a particular area, which is usually pursued through electives. Students should review course offerings thoroughly to make sure the programs offer the desired instruction.

Essential Skills for the Human Resources Professional

A certain set of skills, personality traits, certifications, and points of experience can help human resources professionals succeed. Individuals should try to bolster skills in the following areas:

  • Fundamental knowledge of the profession

    The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) Assurance of Learning Assessment examination is designed for new graduates to prove they have attained a certain level of knowledge. The exam is targeted specifically to those without significant human resources experience.

  • Strong communication skills

    Everyday work for the human resources professional means handling employee disputes and listening to ideas and concerns. Effective communication is vital to the job.

  • Negotiating skills

    Workplace issues don’t always have clear-cut answers or solutions, and finding workable compromises is a key skill. In addition, organizations need someone who can negotiate with employees on benefits packages and pay offerings within a set framework.

  • Insight

    Human resources issues can be tricky. Human resources professionals must be able to read between the lines and understand the underlying issues in a particular situation, especially when there are legal implications.

  • Legal understanding

    Although it’s not expected for human resources professionals to have legal experience, much of what governs the profession is dictated by federal, state and local laws and regulations. An understanding of these laws can give human resources workers a fuller picture of how things work.

  • Social media expertise

    Human resources professionals need to be familiar with how social media works and how it affects the workplace. Social media is also a powerful recruitment tool that savvy human resources workers can use to their advantage.

Any advice you can offer
students who are planning on going into HR?

You are not only helping employees grow and develop, but you are also helping steer the organization and develop the workforce that is necessary to keep your organization functioning efficiently.

Jason Miller

Opportunities in Human Resources: Careers & Specializations

Human resources jobs are available at all levels and with a variety of specialties, allowing students to choose a focus that most interests them—from employee training or workplace psychology to benefits and financial management. Before choosing a degree program, students can review some of the possible positions in the field:

Human Resources Assistant

Job Growth (2012-2022): -1%

Annual Median Salary (2014) :$38,040

Typical Education :High school diploma or GED

Human resources assistants keep the office running smoothly, doing tasks such as compiling, updating and filing personnel records, and preparing reports as directed by supervisors.

Human Resources Specialist

Job Growth (2014-2024) :5%

Annual Median Salary (2014) :$57,420

Typical Education :Bachelor’s degree

Human resources specialists work directly with employees and recruits by conducting interviews, researching potential job candidates, and providing training.

Human Resources Manager

Job Growth (2014-2024) :9 %

Annual Median Salary (2014) :$102,780

Typical Education :Bachelor’s or Master’s degree

Human resources managers oversee the major and strategic personnel decisions in an organization, such as hiring, firing, and modifying policies or compensation structure. They work with upper management to implement decisions.

Similar Business & Management Programs

If a human resources degree program doesn’t seem to be the right fit, students can find related programs that often include elements of human resources in the curriculum. The following are a few similar degree options.

Business Schools

A business degree is a standard entry point into
the corporate world. The curriculum typically
includes several topics that relate to human
resources, such as organizational theory and
business law. A business degree also provides
background on how companies maximize
shareholder value, offering a valuable
perspective for working in a human
resources department.

MBA Degrees

The Master’s of Business Administration
degree provides a comprehensive level of business
knowledge. Students will learn advanced business
strategies, concepts and leadership skills to help
move a company forward. This type of high-level
thinking will be useful to those who work in
human resources, especially at the
management level.

Management Degrees

A management degree provides an excellent
foundation for working in human resources. Not only
does it provide fundamental training in finance, law
and marketing, it also prepares students to be
effective leaders and work with people from
varied backgrounds—skills that are integral to
the work of human resources

Additional Resources for HR Professionals