Saturday, May 2, 2009


In many HR circles in recent years an emerging debate centers around the best course for HR Graduate Education. Some experts argue in favor of the MBA while others retain the conviction that a HR Masters is the more appropriate path. A definitive answer to this debate depends on numerous factors for each individual. What is not debatable is that financial accumen and business knowledge are core competencies for any aspiring Chief HR Officer. CHRO's at the world's largest companies are paid millions of dollars of years for their expertise and capacity to influence bottom-line results.

Also of note is that within media circles that rank virtually every type of graduate program imaginable -- a definitive ranking of HR Grad Programs does not exist. Rankings themselves have inherent flaws, but they do provide a guidepost for prospective students and corporate recruiters. In this post I will provide the ranking of the top seventeen schools that offer HR graduate degrees. Some of these schools offer HR Masters, some MBA's, and some offer both. In future posts I will break down the rationale and provide further analysis. Key considerations in the rankings: starting salaries, class demographics, curriculum depth, faculty prestige, # of recruiting companies, size and quality of alumni base, history/legacy, # of internship offers.


1. Cornell
3. Michigan State
4. Brigham Young
5. Purdue
6. Vanderbilt
7. Minnesota
8. Southern California
9. Illinois
10. Rutgers
11. Wisconsin
12. Ohio State
13. Penn State
14. South Carolina
15. West Virginia
16. Maryland
17. Texas A&M

To understand the rationale behind the rankings we will provide a more detailed analysis of each school:

School #1 - Cornell

Cornell offers two degrees for prospective HR executives. The Cornell Master of Industrial and Labor Relations program has been producing top-caliber HR talent for over five decades. The MILR degree is a two year program that offers a broad and diverse curriculum and the opportunity to choose one of five specialty areas:

Human Resources and Organizations
Labor Market Policy
Collective Representation
Dispute Resolution
International and Comparative Labor

Most students who plan to pursue corporate HR jobs pursue the HR & Organizations track which gives them the most exposure to the various facets of HR. MILR students are also eligible to take a semester at the top ranked Johnson School of Business as part of their degree program. In addition, MILR students can hand pick core business classes from the Johnson School if they desire to supplement their HR education with general business classes such as Accounting, Finance, Marketing, Strategy, etc. The Johnson School and ILR School students co-sponsor the SHRLOE (Strategic HR, Leadership and Organizational Effectivness) symposium each year which exemplifies the networking opportunities and connectivity of the two schools.

Students who desire both the depth of the MILR degree curriculum and the rigor of the MBA can enroll in a joint MBA/MILR degree which allows them to complete both degrees in five semesters. This dual degree is the crown jewel for aspiring HR professionals as it combines the power of the top ranked HR Master program with a MBA from the highly-ranked Johnson School. Both the MILR students and MBA/MILR students compete for the same internships and companies, but the MBA/MILR's historically see much higher salaries and signing bonuses. This is a function of the broader work experience they tend to bring to the program and the value that recruiters place on the dual degree. Other schools in the top 17 list offer dual degrees, but none combine the resources of two elite programs and schools like the Johnson Business School and the ILR School at Cornell.


The MILR programs also offers a dual degree with one of the top business schools in Europe for those that seek a more international educational experience.

TOP SALARY OFFER FOR A RECENT MILR/MBA GRADUATE: $122,000 + $20,000 signing bonus.


One of the secrets to the Cornell HR Graduate experience is the fringe benefit of the ILR School's undergraduate program. Because the ILR school offers an undergraduate program the faculty and staff resources dedicated to the study of HR issues is greater than any in the world. The undergrad ILR students have gone on to be executives in HR and have created an expansive network that is tremendously valuable to aspiring HR executives. This network combined with the success of MILR and MILR/MBA grads has resulted in the creation of the world's leading center for the study of Human Resources: The Cornell Center For Advanced Human Resource Studies. This unique partnership between academia and corporate partners has fostered the most prestigious network of HR executives in the world. The full list of corporate sponsors ranges from high-tech (IBM, Microsoft,, HP, Dell) to large industrial companies (GE, Goodyear, Ingersoll-Rand, Terex, Northrup Grumman) to many other industries and segments. CAHRS executives and sponsors also are widely represented in the National Academy of Human Resources and the HR Policy Association which are widely known as the most prestigious circles for broader HR influence across the corporate spectrum.

The presence of CAHRS at the ILR School breeds numerous networking opportunities for students that they are not available at any other HR graduate program in the world. The annual CAHRS round table event allows students to interact one-one-one with the Chief Human Resources officers from over 20 of the CAHRS sponsor companies. These relationships continue as CAHRS companies speak in classes and assign consulting projects to students to work on as part of their academic curriculum. CAHRS truly is the X-Factor for Cornell which allows the program to stand out as the #1 place in the world to pursue HR graduate education.

School #2 -- UCLA

I really should title this option "School #2 UCLA (Or any other highly ranked Business School that you can get into (TOP 10 or higher)" -- UCLA does offer a HR Emphasis as part of the MBA curriculum which allows UCLA stand out in a crowded field of top ranked business schools. The idea behind going to a UCLA or other prestigious school is that you are sending a signal to recruiting market that you are a top caliber, high potential student and that you are pre-vetted by receiving admittance (Great Work Experience, High GMAT/GPA etc.) to a top ranked business school. It possible that if you choose this option that you will lose out on the broader and more diverse curriculum you can get at a school more focused on HR, but the return on investment of the stamp of a top ranked business school will to be to your advantage throughout your career. It is likely that if you choose this route that you will have to work a little harder at recruiting as the traditional companies that recruit HR professionals tend toplace their recruiting emphasis at other more HR centered schools. But, if you are ambitious enough and talented enough to get into a highly ranked B school, it is likely you will be able to network efficiently to find the right hiring managers for HR roles.

Who recruits HR grad students? Click here for a list of companies that offer HR rotational development programs or actively recruit on campus for up and coming HR talent. The list highlights the most active companies in HR recruiting.

If you study the path required to become a Chief Human Resource Officer it is apparent that you need to build your resume at the most successful and well-branded corporations in the world. That really becomes the defining question as you pursue HR graduate education -- Will this program give me access to HR recruiters? If you are fortunate to get your MBA at UCLA (or other very highly ranked business school) it is likely that you will be extremely competitive for placement with the top firms. A great example of this came in a recent Harvard Business Review Article which highlighted two Harvard MBA's who pursued HR careers right out of HBS.

Quoting from the article:

"So a few Harvard MBAs chose an atypical career path: Who really cares? We have certainly wondered whether we, our companies, and our colleagues are isolated examples. We have considered the possibility that the New HR may be a model championed by only a handful of people that will take root at just a few unusual organizations with investment dollars to spare. It would be presumptuous for us, as relative newcomers to the field, to offer definitive pronouncements on it. Yet the more we learn from our peers, the more we become convinced that a sea change is occurring. We see that firms with the best track records of attracting and retaining top people are those with the most innovative talent-management programs – not only the fi rms where we’ve worked but also companies like McKinsey and Fidelity (which, it’s worth noting, also hired people from our business school class to work in HR). By necessity and design, these companies are ahead of the curve. That’s because they are in the most talent intensive fields, and they know they must attract top people or fail. Yet as more and more businesses become services focused and HR-intensive, this model may soon become the standard across industries. What an enlightened consulting or financial services firm does today, most companies will need to do tomorrow. If we, as two recent MBAs, can get in early on a field poised to take off – and spend 100% of our time on the activity that CEOs told us was the most rewarding 10% to 20% of their jobs – why wouldn’t we?


Really, the question as we head down the list become one of differentiation. Michigan State offers a MBA with a HR Emphasis and a traditional HR Masters at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. They also are the first school to leverage its international muscle by offering a HR Masters degree based in Dubai. The diversity of options, the breadth of curriculum and the joint relationship between the School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Eli Broad School of business distinguish Michigan State as an outstanding option for HR graduate education. Of course -- Michigan State also has a great legacy of placing students in the top HR graduate rotation programs in the world. Rich history of successful alumni including Kevin Cox, CHRO at American Express and Brian Schipper, CHRO at Cisco Systems.

Michigan State: Full Salary and Placement Stats Click Here

Average salary: $78,938.00
Salary Range: $60,000.00 to $95,000.00
Average Signing Bonus: $11,857.00
Signing Bonus Range: $3,500.00 to $18,000.00 Percent receiving bonuses:88%

Top Student coming out of Michigan State with a MBA going into HR:
$95,000 per year with a $18,000 signing bonus. Not too shabby.

Another real coup by Michigan State has been the formation of satellite campus located in Dubai that offers a HR Masters Degree in the Middle East. This progressive and innovative concept truly strengthens the global dimensions of the program and the school.


In the last five years BYU has shot to the top of the rankings as they are absolutely over-run by companies recruiting their MBA OB/HR emphasis grads every year. I have spoken to numerous recruiters and they are amazed at the caliber and quantity of students that BYU is producing each year that go into HR. BYU students tend to have significant previous work experience, key international experience and fluency in foreign languages. The class profile stats speak for themselves and the recruiter have taken notice.

MBA Class Profile
Graduation Year - 2009
Class Size - 157
Average GMAT - 661
Average GPA - 3.55
Months - FT Work Exp. - 36

The top HR grad received an offer of $113,000 in the most recent graduation year! The programs history and legacy is rooted in the former Master of Organizational Behavior degree which was built by Stephen R. Covey and other recognized OB academics over the course of 30 years. About 7 years ago they merged the MOB in to the MBA program and began offering the MBA : OB/HR Emphasis.

BYU also seems to lead in the category of highest ranking MBA school with the most HR recruiters who come to the campus. This leads to vast opportunities for BYU MBA grads with firms like Procter and Gamble, Microsoft, HP, GE...

The curriculum offers a nice set of HR Management related electives along with the traditional MBA courses.


Like Cornell and Michigan State -- Purdue offers both the Masters in HRM and a MBA with a HR Emphasis. These combined programs lead to more faculty emphasis, deeper curriculum depth and generally the best possible path for an aspiring HR professional where you can combine the intense business curriculum with the HR functional classwork. The Krannert School is highly regarded and has an excellent recruiting pipeline.
Click on this link for the detailed employment statistics for Purdue grads.


Vanderbilt offers a MBA program with an emphasis in Human and Organizational Performance. They offer one of the only graduate courses in Talent Management in the country. High caliber students, broad HR curriculum options and a beautiful campus. Only hitch is the high tuition prices for the private B-School.

The estimated total cost of education for the 2008-2009 academic year is $63,062.00:

Tuition: $39,992.00
Books & Supplies: $1,668.00
Rent & Utilities: $8,894.00
Meals: $3,510.00
Personal Expenses (includes clothing allowance, University health insurance fee, and activity/recreation fee, and a one time transcript fee): $4,842.00
Transportation: $1,704.00
Wireless Laptop Fee (nonrecurring): $1,500.00
Loan Origination Fees (U.S. only): $602.00
Orientation Fee (nonrecurring): $350.00

When you are considering HR graduate school you need to do a thorough cost/benefit analysis of the program that you select. Some programs offer funding which can lessen the cost, but at the same time you have to be pragmatic that a HR career can be very lucrative in the long run, but in the short-run it can't compare with a private-equity house, high-end consulting firm or even the rare investment banking jobs that still exist.


Founded in 1945 the Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies has been ranked as one of the top HR programs for several decades. A robust alumni pool assures continuous recruiting and placement of students with best in class HR companies. The HR Masters is attached to the Carlson School of Business which is very well regarded based in the growing Twin Cities area. This attachment to the business school allows students to take critical business classes to supplement their HR coursework. Class of 2008 top graduate offer: $96,000.


For followers of the field this school may come as a surprise to be in the top ten for HR graduate education. Several years ago two former Cornell ILR Professors Ed Lawler and John Boudreau left Cornell and headed west to USC. They helped establish a management and organizations track within the MBA program at USC and also established the Center For Effective Organizations which boasts a sponsor list that is only outdone by the CAHRS at Cornell. The MBA program is highly ranked and if you are interested in working in Southern California, there is no better place to tap into a robust and very active alumni network. Some students describe the tightness of the alumni network to the mafia -- Once you are in -- you are set for life....


This should be the safety school for all applicants to HR Masters or MBA programs. The program is well-established and offers significant funding to the top 1/3 of the entering class. The placement rates are consistent and provide access to a diverse recruitment pipeline of some of the best companies in the world. Admission requirements are not that stringent and the School has a reputation for being very social and well connected to its alumni base. Again -- You can't go wrong with the University of Illinois.


Rutgers HR Masters program boasts of having the most "published HR faculty in the world". That may be true and without a doubt Rutgers has built a stronghold in the north east for teaching and placing HR Talent. Career prospects also look bright -- Quoting from the Rutgers Website:"Starting salaries for individuals with a Rutgers MHRM degree are competitive with MBA graduates entering HR staff work, in the $58,000-$90,000 range for individuals with varying amounts of experience. Sign-on incentives can range from $5,000-$30,000. Prior HR experience can bring you a higher salary and/or a more responsible position. If you do not have prior experience, getting placed in internships will increase your market value and frequently result in job offers from the organizations with which you intern. As Vice Presidents of HR increasingly become members of corporate executive committees and boards of directors – annual base compensation for senior managers often exceeds $350,000. Salaries in large organizations can substantially exceed this amount."


Similiar to the Brigham Young Program, the Wisconsin Strategic Human Resources MBA has burst on the scene in recent years and is attracting significant attention from corporate recruiters. The program is small and focused and is producing high caliber students and alumni.

Salary Statistics for the MBA grads tend to be in the high 80's or low 90's.

If you are looking for hybrid MBA/HR program Wisconsin certainly offers a rich experience to consider.


Ohio State is a great option for a reputable HR Masters Degree with the flexibility to work during the day if necessary. The majority of classes are offered in the evenings and the curriculum and career placement are above average.


Graduates of the Penn State HRER master's program have great success when they enter the job market. Ninety-five percent of alums have at least one job offer prior to graduation. Many have multiple offers. Earning a master's degree usually results in salaries that are $15,000-$30,000 above those of undergraduates entering similar fields. Starting salaries generally range from $50,000-$85,000. While most students find jobs with corporations, employment opportunities also are available in unions, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

On completion of the program, most graduates have multiple job offers. The majority accept positions as human resource/employment relations professionals with major corporations such as CIGNA, Lockheed Martin, IBM, ARAMARK, Corning, and Westinghouse. Others enter the management field consulting with well-known firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Hay, or Accenture. Some find jobs within the labor movement, working with unions.


The 45 credit Master of Human Resources from the Moore School of Business will provide you with the strong education and practical experience you need to meet the exciting challenges you will face as an HR professional. The MHR can be completed in a year-and-a-half, including the required 6 credit-hour internship. Students from all undergraduate majors are welcome in the Master of Human Resources program at Moore.

Sample Curriculum:

HR and the Global Firm
Management of Compensation
Labor Relations
Human Resource Metrics and Research Methods
Human Resources and Business Strategy
Consulting and Organizational Development in MNCs
Employee and Leadership Development
Employment Relations Law
Managing Cross-Border Teams
Organization Theory
The Firm and Its Environment
Management of Employee Benefits Programs
Labor Economics
Project Management


Graduates from the MSIR program enjoy successful placement in a diverse group of high quality employers. Recent graduates have accepted challenging positions with national firms such as General Electric, Pepsi Bottling, Sony Erickson, PPG Industries, Nestles Waters and Marathon Oil. The public sector also finds great value in the WVU MSIR with students going to the United Way, West Virginia University Department of Human Resources, and Pac- Tech to name several. The consulting arena has sought graduates with recent placements at Accenture, Mercer Consulting and Korn- Ferry International.

Typical entry level positions accepted by WVU MSIR graduates include the areas of Staffing, Selection, Placement and Talent Management. Other graduates have been placed in the critical roles of Business Partner, Human Resources Generalist, and Labor Relations Specialist. Students with an interest in Organizational Development successfully find opportunities in Training and Development, Human Asset Planning, Change Management, and Human Resource Information Systems. Students with strong analytical backgrounds have been placed in the functional specialties of Compensation Design and Administration, Employee Benefits, and Healthcare Plan Operation.


The Center for Human Capital, Innovation, and Technology (HCIT) at the Robert H. Smith School of Business is at the forefront of knowledge generation in these strategic areas. Center researchers explore the interface of human capital, innovation, and technology to discover how these resources can be managed to create and sustain organizational competitive advantage.


The Center for Human Resources that is part of the Mays Business School and part of the Masters in Human Resources program at Texas A&M boasts a robust list of corporate sponsors including

  1. AT&T
  2. Baker Hughes Incorporated
  3. Caterpillar Inc.
  4. Chevron
  5. CITGO Petroleum Corporation
  6. ConocoPhillips
  7. The Dow Chemical Company
  8. Dynegy
  9. El Paso Corporation
  10. Exxon Mobil Corporation
  11. Ford Motorland Service Corp.
  12. GE
  13. Halliburton
  14. Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control
  15. Marathon Oil Company
  16. Raytheon Company
  17. Shell Oil Company
  18. Spectra Energy
  19. Texas A&M University

*Caveat to the rankings...

The best advice to anyone pursuing a HR career is to study out the pros and cons of each choice and make the best individual decision. Sometimes this will come down to the availability of funding, other times it might come down to geographic presence. Fortunately, every one of these schools offers a program with over a 90% placement rate. Will some schools benefit you more in the long-run -- in some case "YES" -- but in general people with deep business and financial accumen and a passion for HR will rise to the top? Best of luck in your endeavors and feel free to leave a comment if you have futher questions.

The best compliment you can give the HR Patriot is to send the site link to your friends in HR and for you yourself to come back often. Please come again!


Pei Tien said...

Hi, I'm a graduate student from LIR program in Michigan State Univesrity. The information in this blog is really helpful for people in HR field.

Lately, we work on facilitating the establishment of a public HR graduate program ranking. We find your blog provided relevent information. May we have a further contact with you to learn more about how this ranking was worked out?

Your help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks again.

Shikha said...

let me begin by saying that this blog entry is ever so helpful in giving a bird's eye view of HR programs to consider. Thanks a lot.

But there is a similar entry on 06 Feb 2010. Can you throw some light on why the programs new on the list rank better than many on the old list?

HR Patriot said...

This posting groups the HR Masters and HR MBA programs into one list. The post on Feb 6 2010 is focused only on HR MASTERS Programs.

Anonymous said...

UCLA does not have an HR Concentration. If you go to this page, they say they have a concentration in Human Resources - Organizational Behavior.

But when you click on this link to read about the formal career paths, concentrations, and most importantly courses, HR is not mentioned.

Krystal said...

Thanks for this information. Can you please tell me your opinion or the status of the HR Management program at Georgetown Univeristy or Catholic University in Washington, DC?

How are they ranked or compare to the schools on your list.

yhetee's place... said...

hi, thanks so much for your post.its really enlightening, I now know what to look for in any school am applying to.cheers!

Tirmizi said...

Thanks the content of the post is really helpful !!!

I also came across another post on similar lines i hope that would also help a few guys ;

Randy said...

Wondering if you have any opinion about online degrees vs brick and mortar degrees. Are they of value? How do they compare to a brick and mortar degree?

ILR School Graduate Programs said...

HR Patriot,

Thank you for the wonderful post about the ILR School at Cornell. We believe you really captured much of the depth, breadth, and value proposition of our school.

We wanted to update you on a few new links that have changed:

"School #1 - Cornell"

"take a semester at the top ranked Johnson School of Business" [known as Semester in Strategic Operations (SSO)]

"SHRLOE (Strategic HR, Leadership and Organizational Effectivness)" [now called Human Capital Association (HCA)]


"The MILR programs also offers a dual degree with one of the top business schools in Europe for those that seek a more international educational experience."

If you have any questions, please contact us office at

Thanks, again!

Graduate Programs
ILR School
Cornell University