Human Resources Degree Online: Grow Businesses - and Your Career

Human Resources is a growing field, and an excellent career path for those that love to work with people. If you are considering this field, there are many options available today for obtaining a human resources degree online - everything from certifications within the field to online bachelor’s in human resources earned from competitively ranked colleges and universities.

Job Options for Human Resources

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of human resources has an above-average job outlook with a projected 9% growth from 2014 to 2024.

Although those in the field have varied educational backgrounds, the expectation of those entering the workforce is to come into the field having earned an online bachelor’s in human resources at minimum, often considered the standard for entry-level jobs in the industry.

For candidates looking to advance to more senior positions, a master’s degree is generally preferable.

Below is a snapshot of varying positions and salaries within the field of HR, provided by the BLS.

Position Median Salary Years experience Typical Entry Level Education
HR Assistant $40,100 per year None Bachelor’s Degree
HR Specialist $59,180 per year None Bachelor’s Degree
HR Manager $106,910 per year 5 years or more Bachelor’s Degree; Master’s of HR recommended
Training & Development Manager $105,830 per year 5 years or more Bachelor’s Degree; Master’s of HR recommended
Compensation & Benefits Manager $116,240 per year 5 years or more Bachelor’s Degree; Master’s of HR recommended
HR C-level executive - experienced* $242,281 per year 15+ years or more Bachelor’s Degree; Master’s of HR recommended

*C-Level data pulled from

Human Resources Salaries

The potential for earning in the field of human resources depends greatly on your education, and also somewhat on your specialization.

The BLS reports that the 2016 median salary for an HR specialist is $59,180, while the median salary for an HR manager is $106,910. Typically, managers require at least five years of experience and a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

Within the field of human resources, there are a variety of areas of specialization, including but not limited to: recruitment and selection, compensation and benefits, health and safety, labor and employee relations, training, and risk management.

Salary averages can also vary significantly within the industry. For example, the BLS has reported that median annual salaries for managers vary across the following industries:

  • Information Services: $166,250
  • Securities and Commodity Contracts Intermediation and Brokerage: $163,110
  • Motion Picture and Video: $153,910
  • Cable and Other Subscription Programming: $150,330
  • Financial Investment Activities: $148,390

Human Resources Concentrations and Careers

Within the field of HR, there are the same variety of career concentrations found in most industries. In many cases a human resources employee may take on a specialized position as they advance and take on more senior positions within their career. However, there is also an opportunity to develop your training and education within a human resources specialty through studying a postgraduate human resources degree online or in class. You may even complete the degree part time after you’ve begun your career.

Below is an overview of potential positions within the field of human resources and basic responsibilities for each role:

Human Resources Assistant
An entry-level position, typically responsible for assisting a more senior position with its HR duties. Tasks might include supporting recruiting, staffing, benefits administration, employee orientation, employee communication, and other administrative duties.
Human Resources Generalist
A position responsible for a wide range of HR duties. Daily, an HR generalist might be involved in the full spectrum of activities including recruiting, hiring, employee communication, benefits management, training, safety regulations, and planning of company job function.
Human Resources Manager
Managers are responsible for supervising other human resource professionals, assigning duties in addition to taking on their own. A manager may be overseeing general or more specific duties HR duties, such as training.
Labor Relations Manager
Labor relations managers typically work for large organizations, implementing and overseeing labor relations programs and collecting data and statistics, as well as assisting with contracts and negotiations in collective bargaining agreements.

What It’s Like to Work in Human Resources

Responsibilities and daily tasks can vary quite a bit within each area of specialization; below are overviews of typical duties within each role.


HR recruitment and selection professionals develop and execute policies surrounding an internal hiring process - or could be working externally, contracted by a company to recruit candidates in partnership with the company’s hiring process. This person will write and advertise job postings, while working with department specific managers to identify individual needs. HR recruitment professionals will also screen resumes, set meetings, interview candidates, act as a communication liaison between hiring managers and candidates throughout the hiring process, and make recommendations of candidates to teams based on candidate experience and job criteria. Some typical roles within this area include staffing specialists and recruitment managers.

Compensation and Benefits

Compensation and benefits HR employees ensure that employees are receiving the correct pay for their role, including factoring in vacation and overtime pay. They also generally oversee the benefits coverage offered by the company’s insurance provider. Benefits may include: health and dental coverage, vision, life insurance, short-term disability, and more. Typical tasks in this area include meeting and negotiating with insurance vendors to update benefits packages, creating information sessions surrounding benefits with new employees, inputting salary-specific data from employees, and conducting salary services or evaluating industry data surrounding salary information. Typical roles in this area include benefits specialists and compensation and benefits managers.


Training and development HR professionals evaluate organizational training needs and deliver and organize training for employees depending on skill set. Typical tasks include: conducting orientation programs for new employees and implementing key training for more senior employees. Training HR professionals means ensuring that employees complete training to the required standard of the company, as well as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other governing bodies. Roles include learning and development specialists, e-learning specialists, and managers of learning & development.

Health & Safety

Work-related injuries can cost companies significant amounts of money annually, so health and safety can often be a front-line issue. Health & safety professionals in the HR field work to prevent potential workplace accidents and occupational illnesses. Their roles typically include developing safety programs, implementing health and safety standards, and ensuring compliance with state and federal occupational regulations. Roles include health and safety specialists or managers and employee wellness program coordinators.

Labor & Employee Relations

HR employees that work in labor & employee relations help to cultivate the relationship between employees and the employer. This role may negotiate contracts between managers and workers or may intervene in employee performance issues. Their daily tasks support maintaining positive employer-employee relationships, and improve employee morale and productivity through engagement and issue resolution. Typical roles include employee relations specialists and labor relations managers.

Risk Management

In human resources, risk management involves analyzing each area of duties and identifying the potential for harm, such as examining an organization's hiring practices to determine if any are potentially discriminatory and could lead to a lawsuit. Risks identified could include the potential for abuse, property loss, physical injury, or damage to a company's reputation. Jobs available in this area include risk management specialist and manager of risk management.

Important skills for Human Resource employees include:

  • Decision-making skills: HR specialists are regularly faced with decisions when reviewing candidates’ qualifications, or when working to resolve an HR issue.
  • Detail-oriented abilities: It’s all about the details in human resources. Employees must be detail-oriented when evaluating applicants’ qualifications, when performing background checks and maintaining employee records, and ensuring that the office is compliant with workplace standards.
  • Interpersonal skills: HR employees continuously interact with employees, potential employees, and business partners - and must be able to converse and connect with people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Listening skills: Listening skills are essential for HR team members. When interviewing candidates for potential roles, HR specialists must pay careful attention to applicants’ responses, and understand what points they are making in order to ask relevant follow up questions.
  • Speaking skills: Strong speaking skills are essential to being effective in an HR role. Employees must give presentations and share information often within the organization.

Types of Human Resources Degrees Online & In-Class

There are a variety of programs that can prepare students for a career in HR — from a human resources bachelor’s degree online or in-class to a master’s in human resources degree online or studied traditionally on-campus. Within the area of human resources, the majority of employees hold a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, although, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market is competitive within the field and an MBA can provide candidates a solid advantage. According to the BLS website, candidates who have HR certification or a master's degree, especially those with a concentration in human resources management, can expect to have the best job prospects in the field in coming years.

Why Consider a Human Resources Degree Online?

Choosing a human resources degree online provides significant flexibility in choosing the right program for you and your needs, regardless of which city or state you are based in.

Bachelor’s Degrees

There are a variety of options when it comes to studying your human resources bachelor’s degree online; here are three of the top programs:

Penn State World Campus has a Bachelor of Science in Labor Studies and Employment Relations and a Bachelor of Arts in Labor Studies and Employment Relations. These programs prepare students for careers in a wide variety of human resources-related professions. The school aligned the human resources program with the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) curriculum. Penn State World Campus also offers a master’s program in human resources and employee relations.

Colorado State University Global Campus offers a BS online human resources degree in addition to a master’s program (outlined below).

LeTourneau University offers an online bachelor’s degree in business administration with a human resources management concentration. The HR major includes courses in business law and ethics, management and leadership, organizational behavior, compensation and benefits, conflict resolution, employment law, and negotiation strategy.

Master’s Degrees

There are also many excellent options for an online human resources degree via a master’s program, including:

Colorado State University Global Campus features a master’s level online human resources degree that is renowned. Beyond simply securing the online human resources degree from the university, you can add one a specialization in management, organizational leadership, teaching and learning, criminal justice and law, enforcement administration, finance, healthcare administration and management, information technology management, international management, or project management, for a better understanding of a particular industry segment and to increase your industry edge.

University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign offers a Master of Education in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership with a human resources development concentration online. Students will choose three electives in addition to core requirements; options include principles of HRD, training system design, work analysis, learning technologies, organization development, and strategic HRD. Trident University International offers a Master of Science in Human Resource Management, which follows the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) curriculum. Upon graduation, students will have an in-depth knowledge of the field, a firm foundational understanding of the business world, be able to evaluate employee performance using analytical practices, and know how to align organizational goals and strategies with human resource policies.

Human Resources Certifications and Licensing

There are also a variety of human resource certifications that can be taken to refresh your human resource skills if you have been working in the industry — or to round out your entry-level experience in an increasingly competitive field.

Some of the most popular certifications include the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), offered through the HR Certification Institute (HRCI). Recently, the HRCI also added APHR: Associate Professional of HR for college students.

Below is a breakdown of certifications that can be obtained.

Note: Eligibility varies greatly depending on your education and experience. See the HRCI or Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) for further details about individual cases.

Available through HRCI

aPHR — Associate Professional in Human Resources
Who: Anyone interested in pursuing a career in HR, who lacks the work experience for a more senior level certification (PHR, SPHR, SHRM-CP, SHRM-SCP)

Eligibility: Interest in pursuing a career in HR management and with a high school diploma or equivalent

PHR — Professional in Human Resources
Who: Any HR Professional who meets the criteria
Eligibility: Minimum of 2 years experience in a professional HR position
SPHR — Senior Professional in Human Resources
Who: Any HR Professional who meets the criteria
Eligibility: Minimum of 5 years experience in a professional HR position
PHRi — Professional in Human Resources (International)
Who: Any HR Professional who meets the criteria and resides outside of the United States
Eligibility: Minimum of 2 years of professional-level experience in an HR position
SPHRi — Senior Professional in Human Resources (International)
Who: Any HR Professional who meets the criteria and resides outside of the United States
Eligibility: Minimum 5 years of professional-level experience in an HR position

Available through SHRM

SHRM-CP — Certified Professional
Who: Any HR Professional who meets the criteria
Eligibility with Bachelor’s: HR-Related Degree — 1 year in HR role;
Non-HR Degree — 2 years in HR role
SHRM-SCP — Senior Certified Professional
Who: Any HR Professional who meets the criteria
Eligibility with Bachelor’s: HR-Related Degree — 4 years in HR role; Non-HR Degree — 5 years in HR role

According to The Balance, SPHR-certified employees make 93% more income overall than those without any certification. SPHR-certified professionals also make 49% more than PHR-certified employees.