Business Administration

Why Get an MBA in Human Resource Management?

Why Get an MBA in Human Resource Management?
Human resource management takes more than communication skills and involves more than helping employees understand benefits packages. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry June 23, 2020

Some HR pros get MBAs because they want to transition out of human resource management. Others pursue advanced degrees in business because they want to rise to the top of the field.

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It wasn’t until the 1920s that people started to study the impact of relationships, motivation, engagement, and employee satisfaction on productivity. When they did, they discovered that looking at people as people instead of cogs in a machine made those people more productive. This epiphany led to the creation of human resources management (HRM) as a discipline. It doesn’t always get the respect it deserves—maybe because so many organizations do a poor job of explaining the purpose of human resources (HR)—but it is critical to any growing business’ success.

Human resource management takes more than communication skills and involves more than helping employees understand benefits packages. HR managers do more than mediate when disputes arise between coworkers. Today’s human resources pros have to deal with issues related to:

  • Conduct
  • Compliance
  • Employee engagement
  • Offshoring and outsourcing
  • Workplace discrimination

In the process, they must also make sure productivity stays high and workers meet the needs of stakeholders and stockholders. A desire to understand the needs of people on both sides of the c-suite door is why some HR managers opt to pursue the MBA in Human Resources Management.

Human resources management isn’t among the most popular MBA specializations in the United States. Even so, it’s a master’s program tailor-made for HR managers and human resources generalists who want to better understand the role of human resources in business and to qualify for higher-level, higher-paying leadership positions in HR. In this guide to MBA in Human Resource Management programs, we cover:

  • Why do some professionals pursue MBAs in Human Resources Management?
  • What can I do with a human resources MBA?
  • What do students in human resources MBA programs study?
  • How long does it take to earn an MBA in Human Resource Management?
  • Are human resources management MBA programs expensive?
  • Which schools have the best MBA in Human Resource Management programs?
  • Are there online MBA in Human Resource Management programs?
  • How much will I earn after getting an MBA in Human Resource Management?
  • Is an MBA in Human Resource Management worth it?

Why do some professionals pursue MBAs in Human Resources Management?

The HR MBA is a versatile business degree. It’s designed for human resource professionals (or aspiring HR pros) who want to study accounting, finance, operations, and management fundamentals as well as HR best practices related to recruiting, employee engagement, compensation and benefits packages, and employment law.

As you research MBA in Human Resources Management programs, you’ll find many guides claim that most people who pursue this degree anticipate pivoting away from HR to another business area later in their careers. That’s not always the case. Karen Aleck, a staff recruiter for a healthcare company, explains that she chose an MBA because the hard skills it offers are useful in HR. An HR MBA program imparts “the things a good HR professional will need to know to a) understand the business in order to b) impact the business and c) communicate HR’s impact on the business. In a world where HR still struggles for ‘respectability,’ these are the skills that will help you gain credibility and allow you to effectively communicate with peers in other functions.”


“Should I Get A MBA?”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (source)

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

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What can I do with a human resources MBA?

There’s plenty of room for advancement in human resources management. An MBA in this specialization can help you climb the ladder more quickly. With a human resources MBA, you might become a/an:

  • Compensation Benefits Manager, responsible for strategically recruiting new employees, setting salary amounts, finding better benefits packages, and developing new organizational perks.
  • Director of Human Resources, overseeing the entirety of HR and signing off on your company’s policies and programs related to pay, benefits, bonuses, and employee development. In this role—sometimes called VP of Human Resources—it is your job to ensure that your company is meeting the legal and professional standards of your industry.
  • Employee Experience Director, tasked with creating an organizational culture and environment that keeps employees engaged and happy. This is a relatively new role—sometimes called Chief People Officer—and still pretty rare. Still, it’s one that organizations are increasingly investing in as more studies prove that employee engagement positively impacts productivity and loyalty.
  • HR Manager, overseeing the daily operations of specific areas of the human resources department. Human resource managers might specialize in recruiting and hiring or training and staff development.
  • HR Management Analyst, helping companies determine ways to reduce personnel costs, improve efficiency, and keep employees more engaged. Problem-solving is a big part of this job.
  • Training and Development Manager, coordinating your organization’s efforts to support employee development and train teams. In this role, you’ll create staff development programs or protocols designed to bolster organizational goals and monitor development initiatives to ensure they’re providing value.

What do students in human resources MBA programs study?

The core coursework in HR MBA programs can vary considerably from school to school, as do admission requirements. There are some human resources MBA programs in which the curriculum is nearly identical to the traditional MBA curriculum, except for four or five electives focused on strategic human resource management. At other colleges and universities, the entirety of the HR MBA curriculum, including core courses like finance and marketing, is presented through a human resources lens.

In the top MBA in Human Resource Management programs, which tend to be more focused, the curriculum touches on:

  • Analyzing HR metrics
  • Compensation and benefits philosophy and structure
  • Data management in HR
  • Employment law and ethics
  • Ethical decision-making in human resources
  • HR in the global business environment
  • Job analysis and job design
  • Labor market analysis and forecasting
  • Managing human capital
  • Organizational development
  • Recruitment, selection, and staff management strategies
  • Strategic HR management
  • Workforce planning and talent management

How long does it take to earn an MBA in Human Resource Management?

Like many traditional and specialized MBA programs, most MBA in Human Resource Management programs take two years of full-time study to complete. It’s common for programs to follow a format in which year one of the program is focused primarily on business and management concepts while year two is devoted to concentration courses. At the University of Pittsburgh‘s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, for instance, first-year students take:

  • Economic Analysis For Managerial Decision: Firms And Markets
  • Financial Accounting
  • Financial Management
  • Marketing Management
  • Organizational Behavior: Leadership and Group Effectiveness
  • Statistical Analysis: Uncertainty, Prediction, and Quality Improvement

Second-year students take a handful of core business management classes as well as a capstone course and choose from among electives like:

  • Cross-Cultural Dimensions of International Management
  • HR Planning & Strategy
  • Human Resources for Competitive Advantage
  • Negotiations, Teamwork, and Change
  • Staffing Organizations

It is possible to earn an MBA in Human Resource Management more quickly. Pittsburg State University‘s Gladys A. Kelce College of Business has an online HR MBA program that can be completed in as little as 12 months. Know, however, that one-year specialized MBA programs aren’t the norm, and it’s unlikely that you’ll find a top-ranking program shorter than 21 months.

Are human resources management MBA programs expensive?

The top full-time and part-time human resources management MBA degree programs cost about as much as you might expect. Students in these programs pay anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 per credit. While it’s possible to earn an HR MBA for less than $700 per credit, tuition that low is relatively rare.

Remember also that the total cost of pursuing an MBA in Human Resource Management includes more than just tuition. If you study on campus, your total outlay will include commuting costs like gas and parking fees and possibly also costs associated with relocating for the duration of your HR MBA program. Studying online isn’t usually any less expensive because distance learners often have to pay additional technology fees. You should also factor lost income into your calculations. Some MBA programs are intensive, and you may find it difficult to continue working while pursuing a degree.

Which schools have the best MBA in Human Resource Management programs?

Every year, US News & World Report publishes an updated list of the best business schools. Some colleges and universities on that list only offer traditional MBAs, but many offer human resources management as an MBA concentration. Top business schools that offer HR MBAs include:

Are there online MBA in Human Resource Management programs?

It’s possible to earn an HR MBA online. There are plenty of programs for distance learners that rank highly when it comes to faculty credentials, student engagement, and post-graduation support. Some of the best programs can be found at:

How much will I earn after getting an MBA in Human Resource Management?

It’s tough to say for certain how much you’ll earn with this degree. Some sources, like PayScale, report that MBAs who specialize in HR often earn less than $70,000. While a salary in the $65,000 to $68,000 range is nothing to sneeze at, it may be hard to justify paying six figures for a graduate degree when you’ll only be earning five figures after graduation. Then again, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median pay for human resources managers with bachelor’s degrees is $116,720 per year, and top-paid HR professionals can earn more than $205,720.

Which source is more accurate? There’s no way to know for sure because both sources rely on self-reported data. It may be that more HR directors and vice presidents responded to the surveys the BLS relies on to gather salary data, and more human resources managers posted their salary information to PayScale. Or it may be that salaries in human resource management are just highly variable, in which case you should think carefully about enrolling in an MBA in Human Resource Management program with a high price tag.

Is an MBA in Human Resource Management worth it?

The answer to this question depends on how passionate you are about HR. In a Wired article about how modern human resources isn’t benefiting actual humans, author Karen Wickre wrote: “These are not easy jobs. An HR team is tasked with a Jared Kushner-sized portfolio that carries daunting responsibilities. They have to find new employees at all levels who perfectly fit into a company culture; develop meaningful programs for professional development; create fair evaluations and training; and keep an eye on employee moods, needs, motivations and turn-offs—all while handling the ethical issues and behavioral problems that inevitably emerge when humans spend so much time together.”

If you’re looking at this MBA specialization because you want to become a more effective bridge between employees and employers, the MBA in HR will help you do that. Above all else, this degree will provide the perspective necessary to see both sides of the HR equation and to balance the needs of stakeholders against the needs of the people who actually do the work. On the other hand, if you’re researching this degree because you’re looking for a quick salary boost, a Master of Science in Human Resources might be the better choice. You’ll probably spend less on your degree and earn it more quickly, and you’ll be just as qualified to step into six-figure positions in HR.

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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