Online Human Resources Degrees

The field of human resource management deals with the hiring, training, and maintenance of a company’s personnel. As employees develop and become more experienced, they increase in value, thereby providing a lasting advantage for a company. Larger organizations generally employ teams of human resource specialists, whose responsibilities include handling compensation and benefits; job placements and recruitment; labor relations; and training and development. Smaller companies might only employ one HR manager to oversee all these duties. Traditional HR roles are evolving, however, HR professionals are becoming more involved in decision-making processes that affect a company’s strategic plan.

In recent years, large data collection has proven invaluable for companies to track human resource trends and develop more useful hiring strategies. Experts predict human resource management will move toward more strategic, self-directed, and data-driven function, with companies demanding data and analysis of employee effectiveness. According to a Recruiting Division report, two of the most popular HR jobs in 2015 were chief digital officer (in charge of performance analytics) and chief human resources officer (directly reports to the CEO). Candidates for this new type of HR position are now drawn from non-traditional backgrounds in finance and information technology, and tasked with a more pro-active role in making executive-level decisions for company growth. With this new type of business-oriented responsibility, new and exciting roles for HR specialists will emerge.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports job growth of 9% for human resource managers from 2014-2024, faster than the national average. In general, a master’s degree is a prerequisite for higher-level management positions. Successful modern HR managers must have solid work experience, be highly strategic, adaptable to new trends, and have a strong understanding of information technology, finance and organizational leadership. Salaries vary widely in the HR field, but with median pay for HR managers at $102,780 in 2014, this career path can potentially lead to a very high return on investment. As new trends take hold, and new HR positions become integrated in strategic planning, the job outlook in the field is bright and the talent pool widening.

Meet our expert

Read More

Jennifer Bouley Human Resources

“I was able to work full time and work on my degree on my own time. It only took an extra year compared to a contemporary degree. I also didn’t want to go back to sit in class, I liked the accountability that Athabasca gives its students.”

Online Human Resources Degree Overview

Though associate and bachelor’s degrees are excellent points of departure for entry level work, and for developing basic knowledge and skills in business, more advanced training is required to enter the HR field at the managerial level. A master’s degree is currently the industry standard for managerial positions, and students will find the greatest possibility for return on investment with this degree.

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $12,054 14.69% 2 years $32,500 $46,500 N/A
Bachelor's $17,112 9.39% 4 years $41,300 $66,400 5.7%
Master's $21,089 7.31% 2 years $50,400 $82,900 6.8%
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

Though a master’s degree is more costly than a bachelor’s degree, the increase in base salary provides a faster turn-around when paying off the cost of education. For example, compare the 2014 median salary of an HR manager (requiring a master’s degree) of $102,780, with that of an HR assistant or clerk (requiring an associate degree) of $31,500. Master’s degree holders are able to acquire a higher earning potential, and as a result, default less on student loans than those only holding a bachelor’s or associate degree. It should be noted that salaries vary depending on the industry. The BLS reports that the top industries for HR managers as are professional, scientific and technical services, management of companies and enterprises, manufacturing, government and healthcare and social assistance.

Choosing Your Human Resources Career

Average Human Resources Salaries

$45,483
$49,895
$71,680
$61,639
$61,591

Recruitment Specialist

Salary: $45,483
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
5% 503,900 Bachelor's Required

The HR recruitment specialist is responsible for hiring workers to fill employment gaps, or in special cases, to fill volunteer positions for medical trials and studies. Recruitment specialists must have strong communication (written and oral) and interpersonal skills, as they are responsible for screening, interviewing, and placing new workers in the company. They must also ensure compliance with current hiring regulations. Recruitment Specialists usually hold a bachelor’s degree and are often promoted from the ranks of HR recruiters. The specialist focuses on recruitment process and design improvements to increase efficiency. Data analysis is an important facet of this position, and recruitment specialists must monitor internal recruitment data and data from recruitment agencies to increase effectiveness. HR recruitment specialists are well positioned to advance to higher managerial roles.

Human Resources Generalist

Salary: $49,895
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
5% 482,000 Bachelor's Required

The human resources generalist assists management with hiring and maintaining outstanding personnel, as well as with day-to-day operations of the HR department. HR generalists may assist with benefits and training, and liaise between management and staff, requiring them to have a well-rounded background in employee compensation, training and benefits. As a result, strong communication skills are a must, as well as a collaborative, teamwork-oriented attitude. The generalist works under the HR director, supervising administrative jobs in the HR department. These specialists typically hold a bachelor’s degree with four or more years of relevant work experience.

Benefits Manager

Salary: $71,680
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
5% 482,000 Bachelor's Required

The compensation and benefits manager administers and directs employee benefit programs, analyzes compensation policies, monitors government regulations, and provides statistical analysis of personnel data. More broadly, the manager provides support and guidance to employees regarding benefit plans. A successful manager must have strong social abilities, follow conventions, and be self-directed in developing new procedures. The benefits manager also works to maintain the company’s competitive position in the labor market, and assists in bargaining proposals (for union settlements). Managers in this area usually hold a master’s degree with at least four years of experience.

Staffing Manager

Salary: $61,639
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
9% 122,500 Masters Required

Staffing managers are responsible for recruiting, hiring, and terminating employees, training new hires, and tracking employee progress. They are tasked with finding candidates who will add value to the company and stay for the long-term (retention). In the recruiting phase, staffing managers screen and interview applicants, and administer hiring initiatives to find qualified candidates. Once an employee is hired, staffing managers work to ensure the successful development and retention of the individual by balancing company expectations with the individual’s needs. Many staffing managers begin their careers as recruiters at staffing agencies. The ideal candidate will show initiative and organizational skill, along with excellent communication ability.

Payroll Manager

Salary: $61,591
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
9% 122,500 Masters Required

Payroll managers are responsible for maintaining and updating payroll information, issuing paychecks, creating summaries and tax reports, ensuring compliance with federal and state regulations, directing the payroll staff, and staying up-to-date with current technologies. A successful payroll manager has a strong background in personnel management and data entry, as well as familiarity with employment law, accounting, financial analysis, and wage structure. Candidates must be highly organized, with the ability to multitask and communicate effectively. Strong technical and interpersonal skills are needed for this job.

Online Human Resources Degree in Action

Jennifer Bouley Human Resources

Jennifer Bouley received her bachelor of human resources and labour relations fully online from Athabasca University. She also holds a social services diploma from Sheridan College. As an HR Professional with four years of experience, she opened her own HR and career development practice.

Why did you pursue your human resources degree online?

The flexibility it allowed me. Athabasca is a top university in Alberta. I was able to work full time and work on my degree on my own time. It only took an extra year compared to a contemporary degree. I also didn't want to go back to sit in class, I liked the accountability that Athabasca gives its students.

What were the biggest advantages of studying online?

Again, the flexibility. It forced me to go out and network and meet other professionals. The school had a student services centre, it was all online. The student union was great too!

Were there any challenges you encountered as an online student?

Not interacting with other professionals in the same industry. I had to go out and find the people I was looking for, though professionally this turned out to be an advantage.

How did the online format help prepare you for your career?

I had to have more accountability. It taught me the discipline and importance of being thorough in my research and reading.

Online Human Resources Degrees

Associate

Of the various degree program levels, an associate degree is the easiest, least expensive, and fastest to complete, requiring one to two years to finish. Students learn about core concepts in human resources while surveying specialty areas in the field. Certificates in state regulations are often favored by employers as they demonstrate familiarity with state and government procedures. Starting salaries, generally in the $30,000 range, make earning an online degree in human resources an attractive way of beginning a human resources career.

Sample Courses
Employment Law, Human Resource Information Systems, Strategic Staffing, Training and Development, and Compensation and Benefits
Common Majors
Human Resource Management, Human Resource Administration, Human Resources Specialist, and Occupational Safety
Potential Jobs
HR Generalist, HR Clerk, HR Assistant, HR Assistant Recruiter, Development Coordinator, and Payroll Assistant
Average Income
$31,500 per year
Employment Prospects
2% growth

Bachelor’s

An online bachelor's degree in HR opens a number of career paths, including management roles and specialist positions. The standard four-year program is a good investment for students wishing to enter the field at a higher level than is possible with an associate degree. Common foundational topics include courses in business, psychology, social sciences, and finance. With new trends in the field, it is wise for students to have some familiarity with information technology, statistics, and financial analysis. Other relevant topics might include: collective bargaining, labor law and economics, industrial psychology, political science, and business administration. With so many options for career tracks, students should use their time as undergraduate students to explore their options.

Sample Courses
Conflict Management and Negotiation, Employment law, Organizational Development, Business Ethics, and Negotiation Strategy
Common Majors
Human Resource Management, Human Relations and Business, Human Resource Leadership, Organizational Behavior Studies, and Healthcare Administration: Human Resources Management Concentration
Potential Jobs
HR Recruiter, HR Generalist, HR Training Specialist, HR Employee Relations Manager, and HR Information Systems Manager
Average Income
$57,420 per year
Employment Prospects
5% growth

The Top 5 Online Bachelor's Degrees in Human Resources

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

Bellevue University

Bellevue
  • annually: $6,300
2

Brenau University

Gainesville
  • annually: $23,350
3

University of St. Francis

Joliet
  • annually: $27,970
4

Florida International University

Miami
  • in-state tuition: $6,496
  • out-of-state tuition: $18,895
5

Geneva College

Beaver Falls
  • annually: $25,220

See full rankings

Master’s

Building on a strong undergraduate foundation, a master's student of human resources focuses on honing skills within a specific area of HR. A master's degree is the standard professional degree for managerial positions. Increasingly, students from outside the HR field are transferring into HR at the graduate level, due to increased interest in hiring specialists with knowledge of information technology, business, and finance. The number of graduate HR students with degrees in law is also on the rise. These topics might apply to the study of industrial labor relations, and can be very useful to negotiators and arbitrators. The topic of law also pertains broadly to benefits management, as companies must negotiate increasingly complex legal matters. The cost of a master's degree is fairly high in comparison to associate and bachelor's degrees; however, because it builds on foundational knowledge, it can be completed in only one or two years. Starting salaries for master degree-holders are generally quite a bit higher than those of entry-level jobs. Managerial positions are the fastest growing job type in the HR field, providing students with excellent job prospects.

Sample Courses
Consulting Skills in Human Capital, Creating and Maintaining High-Performance Organizations, Global Compensation and Benefits, HR in the International Context, and Human Capital Analytics
Common Majors
Human Resources, Human Resource Management, Human Resources Training and Development, Legal Studies: HR and Employment Law, and Human Resources Strategic Management
Potential Jobs
HR Payroll Managers, HR Recruiting Managers, and HR Labor Relations Directors
Average Income
$102,780
Employment Prospects
9% increase

The Top 5 Online Master's Degrees in Human Resources

Rank School Name School Logo City Cost
1

New York University

New York
  • annually: $44,848
2

Clemson University

Clemson
  • in-state tuition: $13,054
  • out-of-state tuition: $30,488
3

Brandman University

Irvine
  • annually: $8,800
4

Central Michigan University

Mount Pleasant
  • in-state tuition: $11,220
  • out-of-state tuition: $23,670
5

Nova Southeastern University

Fort Lauderdale
  • annually: $25,430

See full rankings

Doctorate

A doctoral degree in human resources will prepare students for a university teaching career, government work, or private sector consulting. These programs take anywhere between three to five years to complete, and often require working on a dissertation while working in the field. Common topics of study include quantitative methods and theory of human resources, with a focus on information technology and statistical analysis. Students may also study topics relevant to government HR departments such as employee well being, diversity, and ethics. A doctoral degree also allows students to earn salaries in the highest tier of the field, preparing them for director and executive roles. Salaries vary in the highest levels of the HR field, and are highly dependent upon characteristics of a specific industry.

Sample Courses
Industrial Relations, Organizational Behavior, Labor Law, and Philosophy in Organizational Development and Leadership
Common Majors
Human Resource Management, Human Resources, Human Capital Management, Technology Management, Business Administration in Human Resources, and Organizational Leadership in Human Resources Development
Potential Jobs
HR Consultant, HR Professor, Researcher, Human Capital Manager, and Director/Vice President of Compensation and Benefits
Average Income
$102,780
Employment Prospects
9% increase

Professional Requirements

As students explore these educational options, it should be noted that choosing an HR program though an accredited institution is highly recommended. Though there is no national HR accreditation agency. Students should check to see that their college or university (and online program) is accredited regionally. Accreditation is not required to begin work in the HR field, but may put applicants ahead of the curve for more highly sought-after positions, where having a specialized HR certificate in addition to credentials from a regionally accredited institution might set them apart from the competition.

Society for Human Resource Management Certification

The Society for Human Resource Management provides two types of credentials designed to provide HR professionals with recognition, and a set of criteria for distinction. These credentials include the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) credentials. Both focus on “competencies and knowledge” that apply universally to all HR fields. It should be noted, that these credentials are also accepted worldwide, and are extremely useful for HR professionals working abroad. Increased opportunities for eligibility has broadened the talent pool for HR employment, giving HR professionals greater flexibility for finding jobs in the global community.

Is it required?

Voluntary

How long will it take?

Varies