Best online human resources doctorate 2021: Top picks

    Human resource managers plan, coordinate, and direct staff recruitment and retention processes for organizations, businesses, and agencies. These professionals function as a link between employees and management. Large companies employ HR professionals as labor relations directors, compensation and benefit managers, and training and development specialists.

    The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 9% increase in employment for human resource managers between 2020 and 2030, which points to a promising future in this profession. HR leaders should be in demand to navigate changing employment laws and cultures, along with complex healthcare and retirement plans.

    To learn about earning an online human resources doctorate, take a look at our program rankings.

    The best online human resources doctorate degrees

    Our rankings employ expert curation and meticulous editing to provide information on the best program that helps readers make informed decisions. Check out ZDNet’s ranking methodology to learn about the criteria used to select and accurately report on the top schools.

    Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Scorecard.

    1. Amridge University

    Montgomery, Alabama

    About the program: Christian faith-based Ambridge offers a 51-credit Ph.D. in organizational leadership and management 100% online that prepares graduates to hone their research skills and address organizational challenges.

    • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
    • Graduation rate: 32%
    • Avg. annual net price: $675 per credit, full time; $760 per credit, part time
    • Years to completion: Four with full-time study; part-time study available
    • GRE/GMAT: Not required
    • Minimum GPA: Not required
    • Enrollment periods per year: Three
    • Course delivery method: Synchronous and asynchronous

    Accreditation: Amridge University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

    2. Bellevue University

    Bellevue, Nebraska

    About the program: BU’s 51-credit online Ph.D. in human capital management allows business professionals to progress through four curriculum modules that develop skills in investing in and developing employees.

    • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
    • Graduation rate: 46%
    • Avg. annual net price: $780 per credit
    • Years to completion: Not specified
    • GRE/GMAT: Not required
    • Minimum GPA: 3.0
    • Enrollment periods per year: Four
    • Course delivery method: Asynchronous

    Accreditation: Bellevue University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

    3. Northcentral University

    San Diego, California

    About the program: Remote learners enrolled in NCU’s 60-credit Ph.D. in human resource management program develop research-based skills and knowledge in improving organizational effectiveness and motivating diverse workforces.

    • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
    • Graduation rate: 25%
    • Avg. annual net price: $945 per credit
    • Years to completion: Four
    • GRE/GMAT: Not required
    • Minimum GPA: 3.0 for credit transfer
    • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
    • Course delivery method: Asynchronous

    Accreditation: Northcentral University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

    4. Regent University

    Virginia Beach, Virginia

    About the program: Regent, a Christian-centered university, features a 60-credit research-based Ph.D. in organizational leadership — human resource development online program that prepares graduates for roles as professors, researchers, executive leaders, and consultants.

    • Acceptance rate: 86%
    • Graduation rate: 27%
    • Avg. annual net price: $995 per credit
    • Years to completion: Seven (maximum)
    • GRE/GMAT: Not required
    • Minimum GPA: Not required
    • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling
    • Course delivery method: Asynchronous with two in-person residencies

    Accreditation: Regent University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

    5. Thomas Edison State University

    Trenton, New Jersey

    About the program: The 48-credit online doctor of business administration program at TESU offers a concentration in human resource management that culminates in a scholar-practitioner field project for publication or conference presentation.

    • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
    • Graduation rate: 46%
    • Avg. annual net price: $905 per credit
    • Years to completion: Seven (maximum)
    • GRE/GMAT: Not required
    • Minimum GPA: 3.0
    • Enrollment periods per year: Rolling with four start dates
    • Course delivery method: Asynchronous

    Accreditation: Thomas Edison State University is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).

    6. University of Arkansas Fort Smith

    Fort Smith, Arkansas

    About the program: UAFS lists a doctor of education in human resource and workforce development education among its graduate programs. The program requires 96 credits and includes three pillars: career development, organization, and training and development.

    • Acceptance rate: Not publicly available
    • Graduation rate: 34%
    • Avg. annual net price: $438 per credit
    • Years to completion: Seven (maximum)
    • GRE/GMAT: Required; 153 verbal, 150 qualitative, 4.0 analytical writing
    • Minimum GPA: Not required
    • Enrollment periods per year: Two
    • Course delivery method: Synchronous and asynchronous

    Accreditation: University of Arkansas Fort Smith is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

    7. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

    Champaign, Illinois

    About the program: Distance learners can earn their doctor of education in human resource development through Illinois Online. The program requires 64 credits and prepares graduates to plan and direct programs to support their organizations’ employees.

    • Acceptance rate: 59%
    • Graduation rate: 86%
    • Avg. annual net price: $490 per credit
    • Years to completion: Six to seven
    • GRE/GMAT: Not required
    • Minimum GPA: 3.0
    • Enrollment periods per year: Three
    • Course delivery method: Synchronous

    Accreditation: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

    What to expect in an online human resources doctorate degree program

    Online human resources doctoral students can expect to take both theoretical and practical courses in advanced HR topics, including organizational development, leadership principles, and ethical frameworks.

    Other course content covers quantitative and quantitative research methods in preparation for completing dissertations. The dissertation process includes gaining faculty approval of students’ research proposals, conducting research, and presenting and defending their findings. A comprehensive exam may also be part of the dissertation process.

    Doctoral study focuses on concentration specializations, which students select based on their past educational and professional experiences and future career goals. Learners at this level tend to be self-motivated, organized, and passionate about their research topics. They also possess an interest in teaching and improving organizations’ HR functions and employee relations.

    Doctorate in human resources courses

    Online human resources doctorate curriculums vary in content depending on the focus of the degree, but most programs include coursework in law and ethics, human resource foundations, qualitative research methods, and leadership theory and application.

    The course descriptions below offer a look at the classes students might take as part of their programs as they prepare to conduct research, write their dissertation proposals, and apply the principles learned in their courses to their organizations.

    Employment, legal, and ethical Issues

    Learners gain an understanding of the ways in which current employment issues, equal employment opportunity laws, and ethical workplace practices impact businesses and society. They also examine best practices in compliance with business, employment, and labor laws.

    Foundations of human resource and workforce development

    This course includes topics covering applications of workplace and organizational learning theories, career development theories and methods, program development, and strategic planning for human resource and workforce development.

    Qualitative methods

    Students learn about the tools and concepts of qualitative research, including case study research design, ethnography, grounded theory, and phenomenology. The course also looks at epistemological assumptions, strengths, and weaknesses of qualitative methods.

    Seminar in leadership theory

    Enrollees explore the science of influence, including leadership styles and their theoretical assumptions and underpinnings, the challenges leaders face, and the ways leaders build key relationships. The course emphasizes leadership approaches, applications, and knowledge.

    Human resources degree levels

    The numerous HR degree levels and focus areas may appear overwhelming, but it can help to examine your career goals, available time and money to spend on school, and preference for working in business, education, or other types of organizations. The descriptions of each degree level below may serve to narrow your choices.

    Certificate in human resources

    • Length: One year
    • Cost: $1,800-$6,000
    • Post-grad careers: Human resources manager, compensation and benefits specialist, training and development coordinator

    Students enroll in graduate human resources certificate programs to advance their careers, move into managerial positions, and earn industry certifications. Undergraduate certificate programs offer foundational courses for entry-level HR roles with potential transfer credits into human resources associate or bachelor’s degree programs.

    Coursework usually covers organizational management, employee relations, and ethics and legal issues, along with topics in advocacy, engagement, and negotiation. Some programs are self-study, while others may include small group projects and participatory case study analyses.

    Associate in human resources

    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $1,000-$10,500 per year
    • Post-grad careers: Benefits specialist, payroll specialist, training coordinator

    Associate degrees in human resources qualify graduates for entry-level HR jobs and include coursework in employee benefits, hiring and worker retention, training and performance evaluation, and conflict management. Students also learn about creating a positive workplace culture.

    Credits often transfer toward a bachelor’s degree in human resources. The curriculum includes general education core courses and may offer internships, field experiences, or capstone projects. Enrollees develop skills in communication and working with diverse employee populations.

    Bachelor’s in human resources

    • Length: Four years
    • Cost: $7,000-$28,000 per year
    • Post-grad careers: Employee relations manager, human resources specialist, recruiting manager

    A bachelor’s-level human resources degree prepares students for mid-level management positions, recruiters, and training specialists. General education college courses combine with HR topics like conflict resolution, diversity issues, group collaboration, management science, and organizational behavior. Additional coursework may focus on compensation strategies, labor and business laws, and performance metrics.

    Bachelor’s degree students often complete practicums or internships to receive hands-on training and gain insight into workplace cultures and communication styles. Learners may also participate in group projects.

    Master’s in human resources

    • Length: Two years
    • Cost: $7,300-$41,000 per year
    • Post-grad careers: Human resources consultant, human resources executive, talent and development manager

    This degree level awards a human resources master’s or a master of business of business administration (MBA) in human resources. With programs designed for experienced professionals, students often choose to pursue a master’s in human resources or MBA in human resources online.

    Human resources master’s degrees emphasize leadership in recruitment, training, and employee relations. MBA curriculums often focus on core business topics during the first year, followed by HR coursework. Master’s programs typically culminate with a thesis or capstone.

    Doctorate in human resources

    • Length: Four to seven years
    • Cost: $400-$1,000 per credit
    • Post-grad careers: Director of human resources, employee education consultant, human resources professor

    A doctoral program in human resources can lead to a Ph.D., doctor of business administration (DBA), or doctor of education (Ed.D.). Doctorate-level curriculums emphasize teaching, research, and executive leadership, and students spend a large part of their degree programs working on research-based dissertations.

    Generally, a Ph.D. focuses on academic teaching and research in higher education, a DBA leans toward business administration, and an Ed.D. centers on educational and organizational leadership and change management.

    In conclusion

    If you are a working HR professional interested in academia or an executive position at the highest level, a doctorate in human resources could get you where you want to go. Explore our list of top online programs leading to a Ph.D., DBA, or Ed.D. to find the best option.

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