Saturday, March 13, 2010


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 per year 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 a previous post I provided the rankings of the top seventeen schools that offer HR graduate degrees. Some of these schools offered HR Masters, some MBA's, and some offer both.

In this post I will focus only on a ranking of the MBA Programs that offer a Human Resources emphasis.

In another post I will rank the HR Masters programs.

If you have further interest in how to improve the HR profession please read "HOW TO FIX HR?"

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. Brigham Young
4. Vanderbilt
5. Southern California
6. Purdue
7. Michigan State
8. Wisconsin
9. Maryland

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 totake 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 theSHRLOE (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 sponsorsranges 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 i/e Chicago, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Dartmouth, Wharton, NYU, Northwestern, Berkeley etc...)" -- 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?

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...

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.

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....

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.


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.

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.

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.


K said...


Would just like to know, who conducted this survey, because the Cornell MBA/MILR sounds really good, but i am unable to get more inputs on this from other blogs.

K said...

Hello OB/HR friends. I am actually struggling with a similar situation to the one K mentioned. I have look at and reviewed the MBA and the ILR Masters at Cornell and really like what is offered; however I have written a couple e-mails and have called once and I have not received a reply at all from them. I would love to set up a campus visit but they never reply. I don’t consider this normal from such a great MBA program… any thoughts?


Tim Gardner said...

I'd like to point out that UCLA does not have an HR track in their MBA program.

The link you provide above ( is to a faculty group named "Human Resources and Organizational Behavior." If you go back one step ( you'll see a link to the above page - it's listed as an academic area - a group of similar faculty. If you go to their career path and elective course recommended elective page ( human resources is not listed as a career path. They offer no courses in human resource management.

Somebody Special said...

Do any of these top programs over the MBA with an HR focus online?

Somebody Special said...

Do any of these schools offer the MBA with an HR Concentration online?

Somebody Special said...

I am looking for online or blended MBA degree programs with an HR emphasis - after glancing over the websites from these schools listed, it seems they are all on-site programs, correct? Does any one know of similar degree programs from well-accredited schools that are offered online or a blend of both online and classroom-based learning?

Ivan Dragov said...

I do really like that Michigan State offers MBA programs in Michigan and abroad. The vast knowledge one gains while studying a subject like HR from a different cultural lens is an impressive advantage for growth and innovative thinking.

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