Degrees in Human Resources

Whether in small start-ups or multinational corporations, a company’s human capital is its soul source of progress and innovation. From talent acquisition to labor relations, HR teams are central to finding and retaining the talent a business needs to achieve its objectives. Find out more about earning an undergraduate or advanced degree in human resources or human resource management (HRM) today.

Masters in Human Resource Management (HRM)

Developing leaders, retaining key talent, improving the employee experience, and driving innovation and change in workplace culture are the perennial challenges that HR managers and senior directors deal with.  New standards for conduct and compliance in the workplace, a decentralized workforce, and issues such as offshoring and outsourcing all add to the complexity of human resource management in today’s business environment.

But in what could only be described as a blink of an eye, HR management teams everywhere were forced to navigate a new normal brought about as a large segment of the American workforce began working remotely. In just a few, short months, businesses called upon HR managers, directors, specialists, and analysts to rethink everything they knew about organizational leadership, workplace safety, crisis planning, and developing, adapting, and supporting a remote workforce.

At the same time, the country joined in the movement to promote racial equality and corporations and organizations everywhere turned to their HR management team to develop policies focused on a new level of cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Corporations and organizations of nearly every size and shape are leaning on their HR management teams more than ever before, trusting that they have the skills and knowledge necessary to tackle extraordinary workforce and workplace changes and shape key policies that provide a well-defined path ahead.

Serving as senior-level managers, directors and company executives, today’s master’s-prepared human resources professionals are responsible for shaping key policies and focusing on talent as a strategic resource for a business’s overall success.

These unprecedented demands have made the master’s degree an educational standard in HR departments around the country.

Content and Standards for Master’s Programs in Human Resource Management

Today, the even the most rigorous top-quality master’s degree programs in human resources management can be found online, built with curriculum standards created by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a professional membership organization with over 300,000 business and HR executive members in 165 countries.

Master’s programs in HR have been moving toward a more defined business foundation, largely in response to changes in the marketplace. With this shift in curricula design, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published the SHRM Human Resource Curriculum, a guidebook detailing standards for advanced HRM education.

These guidelines are flexible, outcome-focused, and align with the management programs that meet accreditation standards set by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).

And while they provide a level of content standardization, they also come with some degree of flexibility as to allow institutions to design their own HR courses. Today, this modular approach has been quite effective, with nearly 300 HRM programs now aligned with the guidelines.

In 2018, the SHRM Human Resource Curriculum outlined specific competencies these degree programs should include:

HR Content Areas

  • Change Management
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Employee and Labor Relations
  • Employment Law
  • Globalization
  • HR Career Planning
  • HR’s Role in Organizations
  • Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS)
  • Job Analysis and Job Design
  • Managing a Diverse Workforce
  • Metrics and Measurement of HR
  • Organizational Development
  • Performance Management
  • Staffing (Recruitment and Selection)
  • Strategic HR
  • Training and Development
  • Workforce Planning and Talent Management
  • Workplace Health, Safety and Security

Secondary content areas include:

  • Downsizing/Rightsizing
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Outsourcing
  • Sustainability/Corporate Social Responsibility

SHRM Competencies

  • Business Acumen
  • Communication
  • Consultation
  • Critical Evaluation
  • Ethical Practice
  • Global and Cultural Effectiveness
  • Leadership and Navigation
  • Relationship Management

Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Human Resource Management

Again, while colleges and universities enjoy some degree of flexibility regarding the type of courses offered in their graduate HR programs, the SHRM Human Resource Curriculum offers plenty of guidance in the form of sample curricula.

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The SHRM details a sample curriculum for an MBA in Human Resource Management, which generally includes five or six HR-specific courses, including an introductory course and a capstone course.

For example, an MBA in Human Resources Management may include the following courses:

  • Analyzing HR metrics
    • Critical evaluation (SHRM competency)
    • Business acumen (SHRM competency)
    • Linking HR to the organizational scorecard
    • Leveraging human resource information systems data to manage human capital
  • Compensation and benefits
    • Compensation and benefits philosophy and structure
    • Job analysis and job design
  • Employment law
    • Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and as amended in 2008
    • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991
    • Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA)
    • Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)
    • Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA)
    • Worker Adjustment and Retraining
    • Notification Act of 1988 (WARN Act)
  • HR’s role in organizations
    • Ethical decision-making in human resources
    • Communication (SHRM competency)
    • Consultation (SHRM competency)
    • Ethical practice (SHRM competency)
    • Employment relationships and the legal environment
  • HR within the global business environment
    • Global and cultural effectiveness (SHRM competency)
  • Strategic human resource management
    • Organizational development
      • Linking individual and team performance to organizational outcomes
      • Managing human capital assets for competitive advantage
  • Workforce planning and talent management
    • Consultation (SHRM competency)
    • Creating a strategic staffing plan
    • Labor market analysis, trends, and forecasting
    • Legally compliant recruitment, selection, and staff management strategies

Start your career in Human Resources today with a degree in human resources.

Master of Science (MS)/Master of Arts (MA) in Human Resource Management

A Master of Science (MS) or a Master of Arts (MA) in Human Resource Management (or in another business discipline, such as management, with HRM as a major or area of concentration, emphasis, or focus) include a wide array of HR-specific courses in these programs, while the business core courses usually remain the same. Business core courses include study in:

  • Accounting
  • Business law
  • Economics
  • Finance
  • Marketing
  • General management
  • Statistics
  • Strategic management

Otherwise, you’ll find that course outlines largely follow areas of specialization, such as:


  • Developing a total rewards strategy
  • Communicating a total rewards philosophy
  • Pay for performance and merit pay systems
  • Incentive compensation
  • Special compensation situations
  • Managing compensation and benefits in employee separations
  • Controlling benefits costs

Global Human Resources

  • Staffing strategies for multinational organizations
  • Managing expatriate compensation
  • Global legal environment
  • Security issues
  • Green management issues
  • Cultural sensitivity

Employment Law

  • Overview of employment law (ADA, FLSA, FMLA, OSHA, etc.)
  • Staffing
  • Unlawful harassment

Labor Management Relations

  • Employee engagement and involvement strategies
  • Union-related and labor relations law
  • Union membership
  • Union/management relations
  • Union decertification and de-authorization
  • Collective bargaining issues
  • Collective bargaining process
  • Strikes, boycotts, and work stoppages
  • Managing union organizing policies and handbooks

Staffing, Performance Management, Training, and Workforce Planning and Talent Management

  • Creating an employment brand
  • Environmental considerations
  • External and internal recruitments strategies
  • Reference/background checks
  • Structured interviewing
  • Job offers
  • Performance appraisals
  • Career development
  • Employee development
  • Workforce planning and talent development

Analytics, Metrics, and Problem-Solving in HRM

  • Research theory
  • Research design and methodology
  • Benchmarking HR
  • Balanced scorecard
  • Tend and ratio analysis
  • Reputation and brand enhancement
  • Accountability and transparency
  • Risk management

Leadership, Organizational Behavior, and Change Management

  • Individual, group, and organizational dynamics
  • Equity, ethics, and fairness in the workplace
  • Productive work environments
  • Theories and strategies for developing an organizational behavior model
  • Leadership, motivation, and individual behavior
  • Decision-making
  • Managing diverse groups and work teams
  • Leadership and communication styles
  • Internal consulting
  • Role of power and influence in HR
  • Organizational development
  • Workplace culture and trust building

(Shown here with slight modifications are content areas and competencies developed by SHRM and originally published in the SHRM Human Resource Curriculum Guidebook and Templates for Undergraduate and Graduate Programs)

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