Human resources, or HR, continues to be an in-demand career field as new businesses form and existing startups grow their operations both domestically and globally. Organizations across all industries, including corporations, nonprofits and government agencies, need highly skilled human resource experts who can ensure that they adhere to today’s complex and constantly changing employment laws. An excellent way to enhance your skillset and advance in your career is to earn an online master’s degree in HR. Find out what this type of degree program covers and which schools offer the best online HR master’s degree programs.
Take a look at our rankings below to see which one of the top-ranking master’s degree programs in HR would suit you best. For these rankings, we obtained our data from the United States Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the universities’ own published materials. All of the schools in our list are accredited.
An online master’s degree program in HR teaches students how to handle a wide range of responsibilities, including how to manage employees and handle workplace disputes. Students also learn how to establish benefit and wage packages as well as handle the hiring and recruitment of employees. Students can expect the same material covered in a traditional HR master’s program to be explored in an online HR master’s program.
There are a few key differences between a master’s degree in HR and an MBA in HR. Both provide the training needed to attain higher-level management human resource roles in organizations. However, an MBA goes beyond human resources to also touch on general business topics, such as marketing, operations, strategy, accounting and finance. Therefore, it may be a good option for someone who wishes to pursue business positions in the future along with human resource roles.
Meanwhile, a master’s degree in HR places more focus on the management of human resources. It is most appropriate for someone who prefers to remain in human resources, acting as his or her company’s strategic partner and internal consultant. Both programs can take about one to two years to complete, although they may take longer—between three and four years—for those who complete it part-time.
Check out these five sample courses you might be required to take as part of an online HR master’s degree program.
In this course, students learn about both team and individual behavior in companies and how this behavior impacts effectiveness. This class prepares students for careers in business negotiations, training/development and conflict resolution.
This course enables students to analyze institutional theoretical and neoclassical economic perspectives on labor policies and wage determination. Students also explore labor supply and demand as well as labor markets.
Through this course, students examine the workplace diversity, race and gender challenges that face employees and employers. Students also gain skills related to the management of diversity.
In this course, students learn about the normative elements related to ethical decision-making. They also explore descriptive ethics, a growing area of interest among human resource managers.
This course allows students to study the theory behind staffing in organizations. They also focus on training and staffing practices in the modern-day workplace.
In a master’s degree in HR program, students may take part in on-campus intensive courses over the course of a few days. The immersion experience gives students the chance to dig deep into talent acquisition, mediation and negotiation, and global human resources. During this time, students have the chance to network, collaborate and interact with their faculty and peers.
In addition, a capstone project may be required at the end of the program. With this project, students might have to explore a certain business challenge in their organizations and figure out how to address it in the human resource context. Rather than requiring students to complete a project, some schools require students to complete a thesis, internship or paper as their capstone project.
Some online master’s degree programs in HR provide students with the opportunity to specialize in a certain aspect of the field. For starters, students may choose between a Master of Science in HR and a Master of Arts in HR. The former focuses more on the technical side of human resources, whereas the curriculum of the latter includes liberal arts studies.
In addition, many programs allow students to concentrate on areas such as labor law, collective bargaining, staffing/training/development or employee benefits. Other online master’s degree in HR programs allow students to focus on one of a variety of business environments as a concentration, such as international business, finance or accounting, making these programs similar to an MBA in HR program yet still heavier on the HR side.
Take a look at a few common areas of specialization in a master’s degree in HR:
This specialization covers employee regulations, legal and illegal business practices and human rights.Collective Bargaining
In this specialization, students analyze labor unions/organizations in the United States. They learn how they are structured, governed and administered as they strive to achieve their political, social and economic objectives.Employee Benefits/Compensation
This specialization allows students to examine the benefits programs that employers use to meet their employees’ welfare needs. Students learn how develop and manage compensation systems for employees.
An online master’s degree in HR will provide you with the skills you need to succeed in various industry job positions. Take a look at a few of them here.
These professionals are responsible for overseeing employee relations, with a focus on hiring, recruiting and interviewing employees. These individuals also take part in conflict resolution, training and compensation duties. A master’s degree specialization in benefits/compensation can prepare a student for this role.Training & Development Managers
These professionals create, implement and evaluate training programs. They also oversee the performance of employees and develop special programs aimed at helping their organizations to overcome deficiencies or issues. A master’s degree specialization in staffing, training and development can prepare a student for this role.Human Resource Managers
These professionals are responsible for coming up with strategies for best using their companies’ finances in the areas of employee insurance, compensation and benefits. They also create and administer company training programs. A master’s degree specialization in benefits/compensation or labor law can prepare a student for this role.Compensation & Benefits Managers
These professionals are tasked with the coordination, monitoring and evaluation of employees’ wages. They additionally oversee retirement plans, such as 401K, commuter subsidies and health insurance coverage. A master’s degree specialization in benefits/compensation can prepare a student for this role.
In addition to completing an online master’s degree in HR, students may benefit from joining professional organizations to network with others in the field. Here are a few top ones from which to choose.
HRPA serves as an advocate for the human resources profession. It works to advance its members’ careers and to make sure that human resource practices meet standardized and ethical guidelines.
NHRA provides training opportunities. It also gives human resource professionals access to career support and networking programs.
SHRM is the biggest professional human resource society in the world. The organization offers its members training opportunities and access to events in the industry. It also administers the SHRM-CP certification for individuals who would like to distinguish themselves in the industry by becoming certified professionals.
Here is a glimpse at median salaries for human resources career. Keep in mind that some of these positions may require additional experience or certification, in addition to a master’s degree in HR.
|Career||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Human Resource Specialists||Less than $35,810||$60,350||More than $103,570||+7%|
|Training & Development Managers||Less than $59,170||$108,250||More than $187,670||+10%|
|Human Resource Managers||Less than $65,040||$110,120||More than $197,720||+9%|
|Compensation & Benefits Managers||Less than $68,510||$119,120||More than $202,590||+5%|
|Training and Development Specialist||Less than $33,150||$60,360||More than $102,340||+11%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
As indicated in the above chart, human resource professionals are expected to be in high demand over the next decade. They are needed to deal with today’s increasingly complicated benefit options and employment laws. Also, continuing education is required throughout your career in HR, driving the demand for training specialists/managers.
Note that a difference in salary does exist depending on your degree. The median salary for a professional with a master’s degree in HR is $75,000, whereas the median salary for a professional with a bachelor’s degree in HR is $58,000. Therefore, if you choose to earn a master’s degree in HR, you can expect to earn about $17,000 more a year.
Students who want to improve their job prospects in human resources should seek out institutions that are regionally or nationally accredited, as employers often regard them as more reputable.
No national accreditation exists specifically for online master’s degree in HR programs. However, the Human Resources Certification Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management—which offer industry certifications to human resource professionals (the Professional in Human Resources [PHR] and the Society for Human Resource Management – Certified Professional [SHRM-CP] respectively)—both recognize HR master’s degree programs across the United States. Therefore, students interested in completing graduate coursework in human resources may want to choose a school that is recognized by either of these organizations.
In many situations, students in a master’s degree program in HR could use some help covering the cost of their graduate schooling.
Although loans are available through the federal government, financial aid is also available in the form of scholarships. Here are a few scholarship options for those studying HR at the master’s degree level.
This scholarship is available through the Dallas HR Association. Valued at $2,000, the scholarship is designed for graduate students planning to enter the field of human resource management. Students must have a grade point average of 3.0, attend an accredited school, and take part in the college’s SHRM chapter to qualify.
This scholarship is available through the New England Human Resources Association. It is awarded each year for $3,000. Full-time graduate students studying HR management at a New England accredited university are eligible to apply.
This scholarship is available for $1,000 each year to two students. Graduate students who are pursuing a degree in an area such as labor relations, personnel management or HR management can apply. They must be residents of New Jersey and be enrolled in a Garden State institution.