What is a degree in Human Resources?

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Edward W. Bakke (1903-71), an American sociology and economics professor at Yale University was the first to use the term in 1958 in his report titled “The Human Resources Function.” Mr. Bakke’s use of the term was in general sense, referring to the entire working relationships within an organization. Over the years, there has been a controversy whether employees are ‘resources’ -as if they are commodities. This has not deterred most sizable corporations from having a human resources department.

Today, the human resources (HR) department is vital to a company’s functionality. HR personnel are responsible for hiring, firing, safety, employee relations, compensation, labor compliance, and training. As the population of employees rises, individual departments manage these duties. For example, manufacturing would have a department that oversees workplace safety and risk management.  They manage compliance with U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations through maintaining accurate work logs and records and developing programs that reduce the number of workplace injuries and fatalities.


To commence your career path into this field, you will need a least a bachelor’s degree. Some schools offer it as a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Human Resource Management. Specific areas of study may include the management of team dynamics, conflict resolution, business policy and employment law, and training and professional development. Electives in management, communications, and accounting may also be on the program.

Another consideration is taking a B.S. in Management Studies with a Major in Human Resources Management. The curriculum is designed for students to gain an understanding of human resource functions—such as resource planning; recruitment, selection, placement, and orientation of employees; training and career development; labor relations; performance appraisal and rewards programs; and development of personnel policies and procedures—in private and public-sector settings.

In addition, there are schools where you will find their human resource concentration within the undergraduate degree in business administration. This type of program delves into subjects as strategic management, personnel selection and evaluation, labor relations and negotiation, and organizational behavior. This option may appeal to individuals who plan to advance to an MBA program.

As we have touched on, there are B.A. and B.S. degrees in this field with subtle differences between the two. The science degree will typically have a selection of core courses in mathematics, natural sciences, and behavioral sciences. Its counterpart may have more core work in humanities, fine arts, and language. We advise reviewing all programs that interest because the differences in the arts and science degrees are not definitive.


Another variance in each school’s program is whether the coursework prepares you for the Professional in Human Resources (PHR). The PHR demonstrates your mastery of the technical and operational aspects of HR management, including U.S. laws and regulations. However, this certification requires at least two years of professional-level HR experience. This is the requirement for individuals with a bachelor’s degree; it is one-year experience with a master’s degree. This certification and others are a means of embellishing your resume or enhancing your status at your place of employment. A list of other certificates is available at the HR Certification Insititute.


More importantly, the employment prospects look favorable, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They reported the median salary for HR Specialists at $59,180 with a Bachelor’s degree in 2016. The stats reported a 7% growth rate or 38,700 job changes through 2026. HR Managers had a 2016 median income of $106,901 and an anticipated growth rate of 9% through 2026.

Additional DegreeQuery reports on Human Resources:

What Salary can I expect with a Human Resources Management degree?