Best Online Doctorate in Human Resources

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by Meg Whitenton

Updated August 16, 2022

Edited by Taylor Gadsden
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Graduates of a terminal degree in human resources (HR) qualify for top executive management jobs. Many schools offer Ph.D.s or doctorates in HR as a specialization of business administration. This degree is ideal for organized, communicative, tech-savvy professionals.

Professionals holding a doctorate in HR can excel in corporate, research, or academic careers. Most students reach mid- or late-career status before pursuing a doctoral program, which can take 4-6 years to complete. Accelerated and affordable online doctorates in human resources can enable students to graduate faster.

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Human resources professionals with a doctoral education often assume chief executive roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports median annual wages of $121,220 for human resource managers in May 2020. The BLS also projects that HR manager positions will likely grow 9% from 2020-2030.

Read on to explore what you can expect from an advanced business degree, including common courses you'll find at top online schools and typical admission requirements for these programs.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Human Resources Program?

A doctorate in human resources covers the most advanced techniques and strategies for managing talent within an organization. Students typically pursue a terminal degree in human resources to sharpen and diversify their recruiting, onboarding, and organizational management skills. They may also hone their skills in a specialization like training and development or benefits and compensation.

Schools commonly offer doctoral HR degrees as a Ph.D. in HR management or organizational management, or a doctor of business administration (DBA) in human resources. Within these degree types, popular concentrations include:

As is common among doctoral programs, the structure and length of a doctorate in HR varies, depending on each candidate's experience and specialization. Generally, doctorates take at least four years to complete, though online doctorates in HR are more likely to offer accelerated paths to graduation than a traditional degree.

Some elements of the Ph.D. and DBA in HR differ in name only, as all doctoral programs in this discipline emphasize foundational coursework in the theory and practice of human resources. Generally, a Ph.D. explores a more theoretical approach, while a DBA stresses practical skills. Doctoral candidates enjoy the freedom to focus on an area of expertise that aligns with their individual career goals.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Degree Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Doctorate in Human Resources Program?

Compensation Management

HR professionals must master the development, execution, and management of employee compensation and benefits programs. Course topics include base pay benchmarks, discretionary benefits, and the organizational elements of compensation systems.

Foundations of Human Resources Theory and Practice

Students in this course explore contemporary issues in human resources that affect the relationships between employers, HR professionals, and employees. Topics include economic and social change as well as technological innovations in human resources.

Creating Adaptive Workplaces

The ability to cultivate an adaptive and innovative workspace is critical for HR professionals in the 21st century. Students in this course explore management strategies for optimizing employee engagement, communication, and career development through traditional and virtual work environments.

Recruiting and Retaining Talent

Attracting and preserving human resources are among the primary tasks of HR managers. This course explores the most effective recruitment techniques for a variety of types of employers. Students also learn how to implement mutually-beneficial performance evaluation strategies.

Organizational Behavior and Performance

This course explores the theory and practice of long term performance improvement strategies. Students learn to set employee performance standards, propose improvement tools, and assess employee and staff performance through reviews and interventions.

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What are the Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Human Resources Program?

Generally, admission into a doctoral HR program requires students to submit materials including transcripts, a resume, and letters of recommendation. Most programs require or prefer a master's degree and field experience. Doctoral programs may require test scores such as the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

Many online programs maintain admission requirements beyond those of a traditional degree, such as a virtual interview or orientation. Below are some of the most common admission requirements.

Application

Doctoral program applicants will usually need to fill out an online application form. At the graduate level, each program typically has its own application instead of using a common application system. Online programs may require a virtual interview and/or prerequisites like distance education orientation coursework.

Test Scores

Some online doctorates in human resources require standardized test scores. Doctoral programs commonly require scores from tests such as the GMAT or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), the equivalent of SAT or ACT scores for undergraduates. As a management field, HR programs typically prefer GMAT over GRE scores.

Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are necessary for admission into most doctoral and Ph.D. programs. Doctoral candidates typically request letters of recommendation from current or former professors, mentors, or advisors, since many students are pending or recent master's degree graduates. Students may also ask employers, coaches, or counselors for references. Sources need at least 2-3 months to provide letters of recommendation.

Resume and Work Experience

Ph.D. or doctoral candidates can expect to provide an updated resume with their application. While doctoral programs do not always specify work experience requirements, admissions officers commonly review a candidate's resume for professional skills and experience in HR and management. Naturally, applicants should highlight any high-level HR experience on their resume and consider including HR employers as references.

Essays

Like admissions essays for undergraduate programs convey a student's academic potential, essays for a doctorate should outline a student's distinct career or research goals. Admissions officers look for candidates with a clear path toward academic success; however, students may change their area of expertise as their interests develop after enrollment.

Official Transcripts

Doctorates in human resources always require official transcripts. Most doctoral programs require students to hold a master's degree for admission; however, students may pursue a doctorate in human resources after a prolonged absence due to work or postgraduate studies.

Some doctoral programs accept credits transferred from a master's degree or life experience, though applicants should review their school's credit transfer policy.

Featured Online HR Doctorate Programs

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Human Resources Degree?

Career Outlook

Doctoral degree graduates often pursue high-level HR occupations. While entry-level HR careers generally do not require more than a bachelor's degree, large corporations and global organizations prefer candidates with an advanced degree and extensive experience for top executive management roles.

Chief HR officers work with other high-level executives like CEOs to manage companies. Nonprofit organizations often call professionals in this position HR directors. Such top executives can earn annual salaries of nearly $200,000.

Among the following common careers for doctors of HR, college professors earn the lowest salary but still exceed the national average income.

Explore what you can do with an online degree in human resources.

Career Paths

Professor of Business

Graduates of doctoral human resources programs can become postsecondary teachers in fields like business or management. Professors commonly specialize in teaching human resources as part of a DBA or Ph.D. program. Postsecondary teachers typically require a doctoral education.

Median Annual Salary: $80,560


Chief Human Resources Officer

Chief HR officers rank among fellow top executives like CEOs, CFOs, and executive directors. They oversee the long term operations of human resources departments for global corporations, major nonprofit organizations, and large businesses. They require expertise in employment law, corporate compliance, and employee benefits and policies.

Median Annual Salary: $185,950


Training and Development Manager

Training and development managers plan and coordinate staff training programs. They develop budgets for such programs and work closely with training and development specialists to create appropriate knowledge-enhancement materials. Many employers prefer candidates with a graduate education in an HR specialization for management positions.

Median Annual Salary: $115,640


Human Resources Manager

Human resources managers oversee all high-level HR operations within an organization. They act as liaisons between the employer and employees, and oversee functions including recruiting, hiring, training, and payroll and benefits services. Many employers prefer candidates with an advanced human resources degree or an MBA in HR management.

Median Annual Salary: $121,220


Director of Human Resources

HR directors perform duties similar to chief HR officers in corporate roles, but typically for nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, or humanitarian groups. They oversee institutional HR operations including recruiting, staffing, compliance, and professional development programs. Candidates typically require an advanced education and experience.

Average Annual Salary: $97,080 (as of September 22, 2021)


Human Resources Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

As a terminal degree, a doctorate in human resources is the highest level of formal education available to HR professionals. However, students may supplement their doctoral degree with specialized HR expertise through a graduate or postgraduate certificate program.

Work experience is also highly valued in the field of human resources. Organizations including HR Certification Institute (HRCI) and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offer optional professional certification. Choices include HRCI's senior professional in human resources and SHRM senior certified professional.

How Do I Choose an Online Doctorate in Human Resources Program?

Cost

Doctoral degrees are notoriously expensive, since they exceed the minimum entry-level job requirements for most occupations. While the average cost of a doctorate exceeds $114,000, online programs often cut costs significantly through accelerated paths to graduation and set tuition rates. Factors including location and experience also affect the true cost of both traditional and online doctorates in human resources.

Program Format

Doctoral candidates can pursue a degree through a variety of delivery methods. Schools may offer synchronous (live) or asynchronous (pre-recorded) courses, or a combination, online. Students may be able to choose which learning style suits them best. Most doctorates in human resources offer flexible enrollment options for full- and part-time students.

Location

While much of the coursework in a doctorate in human resources can occur online, most programs require at least some on-campus attendance. For example, students may need to visit campus to meet with advisors or present their dissertation. Additionally, doctoral candidates may simply prefer working and studying in the same geographic area.

Accreditation

First and foremost, students should pursue only schools that hold national or regional accreditation. The process of earning regional accreditation is more rigorous and, therefore, makes it more preferable. Doctorates in human resources may also acquire programmatic accreditation through agencies like the International Accreditation Council for Business Education, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Student Support

Student support is especially critical in an online doctorate in human resources. Regardless of a student's specialization or experience, doctoral candidates can expect to communicate often with their school's professors, advisors, and mentors. Support services for online doctoral students also often includes access to networking, professional development, and alumni events.

Best Accredited Online Doctorate in Human Resources Programs

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Best Online Doctorate in Human Resources Programs

  • Northcentral University
    Location

    San Diego, CA

    The Ph.D. in human resource management program at NCU offers start dates each Monday to make it easy for working professionals to earn their degree. The Ph.D. program requires no in-person components or group projects and uses a one-to-one learning model for the best educational outcome.

    Applicants do not need to submit GRE or GMAT scores. Enrollees must possess a regionally accredited bachelor's degree and relevant work experience. NCU requires that they submit letters of recommendation and official transcripts. The program provides five full-tuition scholarships each year.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $1,235 per credit
    • Program Length: 4 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 60 credits
    • Instruction style: Asynchronous
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: N/A
    • School Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission
  • Liberty University
    Location

    Lynchburg, VA

    Students seeking an online doctorate in business administration – human resources taught from a Christian perspective may find that Liberty University's offering suits their needs. The program takes only three years to complete and holds accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Learners can also transfer up to 30 credits from a previous program, and each class lasts only eight weeks.

    Liberty has not increased tuition rates for the last six years. The institution also provides a tuition discount for former and current service members. These individuals pay just $300 per credit. Applicants must supply transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, and evidence of a master's degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $595 per credit
    • Program Length: 3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 60 credits
    • Instruction style: Asynchronous
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
    • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • Bellevue University
    Location

    Bellevue, NE

    Students who choose Bellevue University complete a Ph.D. in human capital management consisting of 51 credits. Applicants must possess at least five years of professional experience alongside a master's degree. To finish the program, learners must submit a dissertation.

    In addition to online classes, learners also take part in several residencies at the Nebraska campus. Courses required in this program include economics of human capital valuation issues, human capital development and productivity, human learning and decision making, and research in organizations.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $780
    • Program Length: 3 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 51 credits
    • Format: Hybrid
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: N/A
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Regent University
    Location

    Virginia Beach, VA

    The Ph.D. program in organizational leadership at Regent University offers a concentration in human resource development. The program consists of online classes with several residencies at the Virginia campus. Students can choose from three different start dates each year to maximize flexibility.

    Required classes for the online doctorate in human resources include studies in design of adult learning communities, autonomous learning and human resource development, trends in organizational leadership, and ethical human resource development. Admission requirements include a master's degree, leadership experience, official transcripts, and a nonrefundable application fee.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $995 per credit
    • Program Length: 4 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 60 credits
    • Instruction style: Asynchronous
    • Format: Online with Residency
    • School Status: Private
    • Program Accreditation: N/A
    • School Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • University of Arkansas-Fort Smith
    Location

    Fort Smith, AR

    Tuition

    $10739

    At UAFS, students can earn an Ed.D. in human resource and workforce development education. All coursework takes place online and students can select from fall and spring start dates.

    Some of the core classes required include career theory and decision making, leadership models and concepts, technology systems in human resource and workforce development, and curriculum design. Students finish the program with a practicum. Applicants must submit GRE scores, official transcripts, autobiographical sketch, and resume.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $438 per credit
    • Program Length: Up to 7 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 96 credits
    • Instruction style: Asynchronous
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Public
    • Program Accreditation: N/A
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Thomas Edison State University
    Location

    Trenton, NJ

    Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey offers a doctorate in business administration with a concentration in human resource management for students looking to increase their business knowledge. After completing all coursework for this online doctorate in human resources, learners participate in a scholar-practitioner field project.

    Required course topics include human resource leadership, global human resource management, workforce technologies, and managing leadership, culture, and change. Admission requirements include a master's in a business-related field, a higher GPA of 3.0 or higher, three years of relevant leadership/management experience, official transcripts, an interview, and two essays.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $399 (in state); $519 (out of state)
    • Program Length: 32 months
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 48 credits
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Public
    • School Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    Location

    Champaign, IL

    Tuition

    $15829

    U of I's college of education provides an Ed.D. in human resource development focused on both theoretical concepts and practical application. In addition to participating in field research, students must also produce a thesis prior to graduation.

    Required courses for this online doctorate in human resources include instructional and training system design, innovation in e-learning, organizational development, and principles in human resource education. Applicants must submit an academic statement of purpose, a personal statement, a resume, reference letters, and their transcripts. They must have a GPA of at least 3.0.

    Program Snapshot

    • Program URL: Visit Program
    • Cost per Credit: $490 per credit
    • Program Length: 5 years
    • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 64 credits
    • Format: Online
    • School Status: Public
    • Program Accreditation: N/A
    • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission

FAQ's About Doctorate in Human Resources Programs

Is a doctorate in human resources worth it?

Yes, a doctorate in human services qualifies graduates for high-level jobs in corporate management and higher education. While most entry-level HR jobs require only a bachelor's degree, advanced positions such as HR director or business professor typically require a master's or doctoral degree and extensive work experience. Doctoral programs emphasize advanced management skills in recruiting and development, conflict resolution, and benefits and compensation.

What can I do with a doctorate in human resources?

Graduates with a doctorate in human resources can become chief HR officers, HR directors or managers, or college professors. A doctoral program prepares graduates to assume the highest-level management positions within a global corporation or nonprofit organization, as chief HR officers or executive directors of human resources. HR professionals may specialize in fields like training and development or benefits and compensation. Professors may teach strictly human resources courses or specialize in the business of HR, such as through an MBA.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in human resources online?

Most doctorates or PH.D.s take 4-6 years to complete, though completion times vary by program, concentration, and experience. Students may qualify to apply transfer credits toward completing a doctorate in human resources in less time than a traditional program. Additionally, many online doctorates in human resources offer accelerated programs through options like full-time or flex enrollment, or competency-based learning models.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in human resources?

A doctorate in human resources can lead to annual earnings between $80,000 and $200,000. Graduates of a doctoral program qualify for top-tier positions in higher education and executive administration, commensurate with a high income. For example, HR professionals with a terminal degree can become college professors, HR managers, or chief HR officers.

What are the highest paying jobs with a doctorate in human resources?

Chief human resources officers can earn an annual salary of nearly $200,000. Generally, holding a doctoral degree qualifies job candidates for exclusive, high-paying jobs at the top of their field. Among the many diverse, high-earning careers available to doctoral degree graduates, chief PR executives and directors at global corporations and large nonprofit organizations enjoy the highest salaries.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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