Back in the early 1900s, the National Cash Register Company established what was arguably the first HR department to handle employee grievances and manage personnel changes. The practice of human resources management has developed ever since, eventually establishing itself as a discrete entity in many businesses some time in the 1920s.
From the outset, HR professionals—including human resources managers, directors, and VPs—focused their attention across business functions ranging from recruiting to training to motivation. Today, human resources managers are responsible for all that and more, managing everything from employee engagement to regulatory compliance. A career in HR can mean specializing in labor relations, overseeing employee retention and ROI, dealing with thorny issues related to workplace discrimination, and walking an extremely fine line between workers and stockholders.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree is all you need to break into most human resources career roles. Still, if you have your eye on a long and successful HR career, a human resources master’s degree can make it easier to accomplish your goals. Among those, the MBA in Human Resource Management offers an excellent option to ambitious professionals. It’s a specialization you won’t see at too many schools. That’s okay because there are plenty of HR MBA programs online.
In this article about earning an MBA in Human Resources online, we cover:
A traditional MBA will help just about anyone working in a business environment grow their career. HR professionals don’t necessarily have to choose an MBA program that offers a human resources concentration to climb the HR ladder. They can get a lot from a generalist MBA program.
So why pursue this MBA specialization? For one, it’s a way to earn something resembling a dual degree. Like Master of Science in Human Resources Management programs, HR MBA programs cover topics like recruiting, employee engagement, compensation and benefits packages, conflict resolution, and employment law. They also cover accounting, finance, operations, and strategic management, and can include business-focused capstone courses and internships.
In pursuing an online MBA degree program, you might take courses like:
Graduates of online degree programs are just as qualified as their peers who study on campus to work in all kinds of HR jobs. They also develop the knowledge and management skills to step into senior management positions outside the human resources department. You can find graduates of online MBA in Human Resources programs working in project management, international business, operations management, and other areas.
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. (
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. ( )
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MBA programs for distance learners confer identical degrees. In that way, they are indistinguishable.
That said, on
line and traditional programs can differ when it comes to sequencing, required coursework, and faculty. At some colleges and universities, students in online MBA programs take the same classes over the same two years on the same schedule as students in on-campus programs. At others, distance learners have a very different experience depending on the format they choose. Sometimes that’s because coursework differs between those formats. In other cases, the flexible nature of online programs makes it possible for students to complete the same coursework at a different pace.
For instance, graduate students enrolled in the on-campus HR MBA program at the University of Pittsburgh‘s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business take the following core courses in year one:
Second-year MBA students take a handful of core business management classes and choose from among HR-focused electives like:
Students in the online HR MBA program, on the other hand, work with academic advisors, career advisors, and faculty members to create a custom course sequence. The core business and concentration courses are the same in both formats, but online students complete them in a different order and/or at a different pace.
On-campus MBA programs incorporate robust network-building opportunities into the curriculum. Programs with strong ties to employers in an MBA concentration area or to firms with significant staffing needs relating to that specialization fulfill these functions best.
When you pursue an MBA in Human Resources online, you won’t be able to take advantage of these “extras” unless the program you choose includes a residency requirement designed to give distance learners access to some of the same opportunities on-campus learners enjoy. If you choose an HR MBA program without a residency requirement, you may be responsible for building your own network by finding your own local internship placements, joining professional organizations and associations like the Society for Human Resource Management or National Human Resources Association, and attending conferences independently.
The cost of an MBA can vary widely from school to school, regardless of concentration. There are programs in which students pay more than $2,000 per credit hour and programs in which the per-credit cost is under $300. The total cost of an MBA, whether you study full-time or part-time, on-campus or online, can range from $25,000 to $200,000.
The good news is that you’ll probably pay closer to the former than the latter if you choose to pursue an MBA in Human Resources online. Most of the best online programs charge somewhere between $360 and $800 per credit. The bad news is that you likely won’t pay top dollar because human resources management is already a relatively rare MBA when you’re studying on campus; it’s even rarer online. No one enrolls in University of Pennsylvania‘s Wharton School or the University of Chicago‘s Booth School of Business to study HR. That may change in the future as more companies invest in employee engagement, but for now, your online MBA program options with a human resource management concentration are fairly limited.
Unfortunately, you won’t find online MBAs for aspiring HR managers offered online at any of the top-ranked business schools in the United States. Some of the best MBA programs are so customizable than you could create a de facto HR concentration by choosing electives related to human resources management, human resource development, or labor law. Still, if you want to live, breathe, sleep, and sweat HR while earning an MBA online, check out the programs at the following colleges and universities:
The most affordable school in the list above is Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business. It is not one of the most affordable schools to offer an MBA in Human Resources online, though. The schools below aren’t top-ranked or even particularly well-known, but they all offer a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in human resources online for a lot less than you’ll pay at schools with better name recognition.
No matter where you decide to enroll, you’ll probably have the same access to financial aid, student loans, and scholarships as graduate students in on-campus human resources programs. That said, the smartest thing you can do when calculating how much you can reasonably pay for an online MBA is to balance the cost against how much you can expect to earn in the future.
The top online MBA in Human Resources programs are found at schools that are well-respected and appear in lists like US News & World Report‘s school rankings of the best business schools, but none are top-tier institutions. At the end of the day, the best online MBA in Human Resources programs are probably the ones that do as much as they can to replicate the on-campus MBA experience when it comes to networking. Keep in mind that best is somewhat subjective when it comes to online MBA programs with or without specialization options. The program that’s best for you might be the one that lets you keep working or the one you can pay for without taking out any loans.
So, does it really matter where you get an MBA? In some fields—like finance, consulting, and entrepreneurship—the pedigree of one’s MBA matters. The top business schools launch epic and lucrative careers, but the admission requirements at these schools can be stringent. In other fields, including human resources management, it may not matter as much–especially if you’re pursuing a degree online. As a distance learner, you’ll already be responsible to some degree for building professional relationships and creating your own network. Think carefully before taking out huge loans or taking time off just to attend a program at a big-name school.
The answer depends on your long-term aspirations. If you’re genuinely passionate about human resources management, the Master of Science in Human Resource Management may be the more useful graduate degree (and may be better from an affordability standpoint, as well). HR isn’t an easy discipline to master. An online master’s degree program in HR can help you become a more effective recruiter, inspire creativity across teams, promote employee engagement, and solve interpersonal issues as they come up. Not everyone is cut out for life in HR—you do everything for your company, but you’re seldom recognized as the backbone of that company—but if you love every minute of it, then an MBA in Human Resources probably isn’t worth it.
That’s because this degree isn’t really for people who want to devote themselves to the art of HR. It’s for those who want to understand human resources management from a business perspective. You’ll graduate from the above MBA programs in HR management with a strong foundation not only in employee engagement and staffing but also in operations, finance, information systems, and management. With this degree, you can transition into higher-level and executive roles in HR—or pivot out of human resources into another area of business. If you’re fascinated by how business gets done and by the people who do it, an HR MBA degree is definitely the degree for you.
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