There has never been a time when it has been more important for human resources professionals at every level to have a strong foundation of knowledge in HR– and business.
In 2017, the American job market hit a record of 6.2 million open positions. That’s 6 million plus people that HR professionals are responsible for hiring and training. At the same time, employee confidence and optimism about the job market also went through the roof. According to Gallup, 56 percent of Americans had a positive view of their job prospects as the unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent. Wage growth in January 2018 was the greatest since 2009.
That makes for a lot of hiring and compensation increases, both of them generating a lot of work for HR professionals.
But at the same time, a surge in reports and awareness of workplace sexual harassment and abuse driven by the #MeToo movement has made hiring and human resources decisions enormously important. Wrong moves in handling these cases or making the wrong hiring decision have cost companies millions, and even driven them out of business.
HR departments have taken note, and it’s now difficult to get even an entry-level job without a minimum of an associate degree.
These two-year programs provide the foundational knowledge you need to get your foot in the door in Human Resources. They also offer a springboard to further education in the field which can launch an even longer and more lucrative career for you in the future.
Career Options for Associate Degree Holders in Human Resource Management
Associate degrees in Human Resource Management (HRM) open up the lowest level position in an HR department:
|Job Title||Salary Range|
|HR Assistant/Generalist||$33,250 – $54,000|
|Benefits Assistant||$25,100 – $44,400|
|Compliance Specialist||$38,700 – $39,700|
The assistant/generalist role is a catch-all position that includes positions such as:
- HR Clerks
- Assistant Recruiters
- Payroll Assistants
They are often customer-facing or involve a great deal of general office tasks like filing and processing.
The salaries for those positions (drawn from Robert Half’s 2018 Salary Guide for Administrative Professionals and the Willis Towers Watson 2016 CSR General Industry Human Resources Compensation Survey Report) vary by region. Areas that have hot job markets have a higher HR demand and usually provide higher compensation.
- Northeast : $40,745 – $70,250
- Southeast : $30,740 – $53,000
- North Central : $35,815 – $61,750
- South Central : $31,900 – $55,000
- West Coast : $37,990 – $65,500
- Northeast : N/A
- Southeast : $34,300 – $36,500
- North Central : $38,700 – $44,600
- South Central : N/A
- West Coast : N/A
Selecting an Associate Degree Program in Human Resource Management
Most HRM associate programs are associate of arts degrees… they have a stronger emphasis on critical thinking skills development and traditional liberal arts education. However, you may find some associate of science degrees. These cut away many of the social studies, language, and other general courses in favor of heavier exposure to core HRM courses.
In practical terms, there is little difference between the types of degree when it comes to finding jobs. You might find that AA degrees have better transferability prospects than AS degrees, however.
Rarely, you may also come across Associate of Applies Science (AAS) degrees in HRM. These degrees are almost exclusively occupation-oriented, with no extraneous courses designed for college preparation. They are not usually transferable degrees.
There are also a number of other degree titles which include a substantially similar curriculum. These include:
- Associate of Science in Management
- Associate in Human Resources and Organizational Leadership
- Associate of Arts in Management
- Associate in Human Resource Administration
- Associate of Science in Business Administration and Human Resources
- Associate of Applied Science in Human Resources Management
Most AA programs in HRM are offered only online today. Some community colleges have traditional on-campus HR programs but they are increasingly rare.
Online AA programs are aimed at providing flexible, accessible, low-cost educational opportunities for non-traditional students. They are becoming more and more popular for all students, however, since they allow you to stream course content at a time and place of your choosing and usually have flexible assignment and scheduling deadlines. This makes it easy to take courses while holding down a regular job or keeping other commitments.
It also means you don’t have to relocate in order to take classes, which can be a significant savings. Since few community colleges offer these programs, it can be difficult to find one located close to you. An online program avoids the cost and trouble of moving to attend a traditional on-campus course.
Associates degrees are also often called transfer degrees because one traditional use for them has been as preparation for transferring to a full four-year degree program. In these cases, the associate degree is expected to count for the first two years, or 60 credits, of a bachelor’s degree. This provides a route to a full baccalaureate degree even if you don’t have the time or money to go through the entire program at once.
Not all four-year colleges recognize all two-year degree programs, however. In many cases, this issue of recognition is addressed in a regional or in-state transfer agreement between community colleges and four-year universities, where they align their programs so that AA credits will be automatically accepted. But outside of such agreements, your AA program will have to be evaluated on a course-by-course basis, and some or all of the credits may be denied.
To make sure that your AA credits will count if you decide to transfer to a four-year college, you should look carefully at the accreditation status of the two-year school. Although it’s not a guarantee, accredited programs are more likely to be accepted for credit at four-year institutions.
Human Resource Management Associate Degree Core Curriculum and Electives
Most AA degrees start off with general studies courses. You’ll probably have classes in math, English, and electives in social science and humanities for the first two years of your degree. Some of these, such as introductory computer classes or courses on communication and speaking skills, will also have some application to HRM.
The core HRM courses are usually encountered in your second year of the two year program.
As an AA-degree holder, your role is very likely to be employee-facing, so these programs dive right into the basis of those interactions. You’ll be given good preparation for managing yourself and dealing face-to-face with other staff. This will include some psychological and professional techniques for evaluating social situations as well as discussions of the meaning of personal and career success for yourself and others.
Principles of Human Resource Management
These courses cover the meat and potatoes of HRM: planning, organizing, staffing, and directing staff to enable organizational success. You’ll learn how to perform job and employee evaluations, how to communicate with staff individually and in groups, and shown methods of resolving various personnel problems. You’ll get an overview of labor relations and recruitment issues and discuss how to set and administer salaries and other compensation.
A lot of HRM involves situations where ethical standards come into play, so it’s important that you have a strong basis for knowing what those standards are and how they are determined. The social and professional responsibility of both individuals and organizations are explored. Employee rights and obligations are discussed, as well as historical issues of discrimination and how organizational culture plays an important role in ethics.
HR professionals at every level are expected to known and understand the basics of state and federal employment laws. You’ll study them in detail as well as learning the general scope of such laws and their protections. The relationship between employees and employers will be outlined, as will the effects of union and collective bargaining agreements on that relationship.
Training and Development
Something you’ll learn in your HRM principles and compensation classes will be that its far cheaper to retain a current employee than to hire a new one. Training and development is an important factor in employee retention. You’ll learn how to evaluate training needs and to develop training courses for staff. How to assess the development requirements of individual employees will be discussed as well as the strategic considerations you will put into organizational development. The effects of technology on training and how to assess training programs will also be taught.
Compensation and Benefits
These courses provide further instruction, usually in some technical detail, of how compensation and benefits packages are determined and administered. You’ll learn how these packages serve as a competitive advantage or disadvantage for companies and what criteria are used to evaluate them. You may also study legal benefits requirements set by federal, state, or local agencies.
General Business Courses
A fundamental understanding of general business concepts is also part of the HRM curriculum. You’ll be introduced to basics of accounting, business operations, and business organization. Most programs also have heavy investments in computing skills. You’ll spend a lot of time learning the basics of Microsoft Office and other standards business software tools, as well as some elementary considerations of information and office technology. You should also learn basic business and technical writing skills in these classes.
Accreditation Standards for Associate Degree Programs in Human Resource Management
Accreditation is simply the process of having a trustworthy and respected third party evaluate a school or school degree program to verify that it is being delivered competently, fairly, and by qualified instructors. Accreditors look at how colleges develop their curriculum and run their programs to ensure that they meet strict pedagogical standards in line with the expectation of American business and government.
Accreditation in the United States is traditionally offered by one of six regional accrediting bodies:
- Accrediting Commission for Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Higher Learning Commission (North Central)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
These agencies are the most widely respected and the most likely to be cited by four-year universities as acceptable for the purposes of establishing transfer credits.
It can be difficult to find a regionally accredited AA program in HRM. Online-only programs may be nationally accredited by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Department of Education (DOE). Although these do establish some bona fides for the program, they may be insufficient if you plan to eventually go on to a four-year program, so finding a school with a regional accreditation should be a major consideration.