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Question: What Is the Difference Between an MBA in Human Resource Management and a Master’s in Human Resource Management?

Answer: An MBA is a professional degree that offers general business training in a broad range of areas, including human resource management (HRM), and some MBA programs offer a formal concentration in HRM that consists of several specialized courses. A master’s in HRM is generally a Master of Science degree that focuses specifically and to some extent exclusively on theories and principles of managing human resources and does not typically include general business training.

What is HRM?

Human resources consist of the people who work for organizations, companies, corporations, and other enterprises. Like other assets, these people add value to a business. Effective human resource management, or HRM, is generally considered to be a crucial factor in the overall performance of a business, and the implementation of optimal workforce management policies is a crucial concern in business enterprises. Large companies typically maintain a dedicated department for the management of human resources, while smaller business may have one or two people who handle HRM issues. There are also companies and consultancies who specialize in managing some or all of the human resource issues for other businesses.

HRM specialists are generally involved in hiring, training, and promoting employees, workforce coordination and development, and other personnel management decisions. Working in the field requires practical knowledge of labor laws, employee compensation and benefits packages, and business IT systems. Training in HRM also encompasses the study of theories of organizational behavior, modes of communication, and strategies for motivating individual and teams, resolving disputes, and improving and maintaining workforce productivity. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a professional organization that offers two credentials for HRM professionals (Certified Professional and Senior Certified Professional), maintains a Competency Model that details crucial skills and knowledge areas for early, mid, senior, and executive level human resource managers. These competencies include knowledge of strategic business management, HR technologies, personal networking, team and project management, public relations, cultural factors, and critical evaluation and assessment methods.

Master’s in HRM Degree Programs

A master’s in HRM is typically a Master of Science degree that offers comprehensive interdisciplinary training and advanced instruction in the theories and practices of managing human resources in a variety of professional contexts. In an MS in HRM program the primary focus of the curriculum is on the scientific principles of human resources management and practical applications of this science in the field of workforce management and administration.

While there is some overlap between general business and HRM subject areas, an MS in HRM is designed to cover only those general business subjects that are relevant to the management of a company’s human resources. For example, the effective management of an organization’s human resources often requires an understanding of principles of finance, of corporate communication protocols, and of business intelligence data systems, so these areas are likely to receive coverage in an MS in HRM degree program. Students in these programs are also introduced to theories of organizational leadership, which are part of most general business curricula. In an HRM curriculum these theories are applied to the challenges of workforce development and other human resource concerns.

Master’s in HRM programs are generally designed with the expectation that a full-time student can complete the coursework in one-to-two years. While specific crediting and course requirements vary by program, a typical program might include 12 three-credit courses for a total of 36 credits. Common courses in an MS in HRM program include: Organizational Behavior & Leadership; Employee & Labor Relations; HR Technology; Financial and Human Capital; Workforce Diversity; Ethics in HRM; Recruitment & Staffing; Control & Budgeting Systems; Corporate Communication; and Strategic Business & HR Planning. Many programs include a master’s thesis or an applied human resources capstone project, which generally involve researching an issue in human resource management and presenting an analysis of that issue.

MBA Programs with an HRM Specialization

The MBA is a Master of Business Administration degree. It is generally offered through a business school or business department that is part of a larger college or university. Business programs can receive accreditation from three agencies: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE). MBA programs are generally designed to be completed in two years of full-time enrollment, although there are one-year variations and other formatting options available through online, campus-based, and hybrid programs. Crediting requirements vary by program, from roughly 36 to 60 or more required credit hours.

MBA programs are grounded in a core generalist curriculum that integrates an array of key business functions, including accountancy, finance, marketing, public relations, project and operations management, and organizational leadership and communications. The management of human resources, or HRM, is one of the key business functions that MBA programs address as part of the broader business administration and management curriculum. HRM is also an MBA specialization, which means that students in some MBA programs may have the option of enrolling in two or more courses that cover advanced topics in HRM and that constitute a defined track or concentration in HRM. However, just as an MS in HRM does not include the same level of general business training as an MBA program, an MBA in HRM does not offer the same depth or breadth or training in HRM theories and practices as an MS in HRM.

Graduates from MS and MBA programs are generally qualified to work in the field of HRM. But MBA programs provide students with far more training in areas like financial accounting, strategic marketing, and supply-chain management, which can serve as preparation for a career in many different areas of business. Conversely, an MS in HRM provides graduates with the tools to advance into mid-level and senior HRM positions, but not with the general business knowledge that may be required to work in other areas of business administration, such as accounting, marketing, and finance. Experienced HRM professionals aiming to advance in their careers are more likely to consider an MS in HRM degree program, while those looking to work on the HRM side of business management may find an MBA in HRM more suitable.

Master’s in HRM and MBA in HRM Coursework

The most significant difference between a master’s in HRM program and an MBA program with a specialization in HRM concerns the curriculum. Students in a master’s in HRM program focus almost exclusively on developing skills and knowledge related to understanding organizational behavior and managing people within an organization. Students in an MBA in HRM program take a range of business courses in areas of concern for general business managers, such as finance and accounting, as well as several concentration courses in issues related to the management of human resources. The table below illustrates some of the similarities and difference between a master’s in HRM curriculum and an MBA in HRM curriculum.

MS in HRM CoursesMBA in HRM Courses
Organizational Behavior & LeadershipOrganizational Behavior & Leadership
Employee & Labor RelationsResearch Methods & Decisions Making
HR TechnologyProject & Operations Management
Financial and Human CapitalBusiness Integration & Strategic Planning
Workforce DiversityFinance & Accounting for Decisions Making
Ethics in HRMManagerial Economics
Recruitment & StaffingFoundations of Human Resource Staffing
Control & Budgeting SystemsHuman Resource Management for General Managers
Corporate CommunicationTalent Management & Development
Strategic Business & HR PlanningBusiness & Labor Law
Compensation & Rewards ManagementCompensation & Rewards Management

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