Overview of an Associates in Human Resources
One of the benefits of earning an associate degree is that it takes less time to complete than a four-year bachelor's program, and provides flexibility to students who wish to enter the workforce right away or find an affordable way to learn some new skills. In most cases, an associate's program primarily focuses on general education courses like math, English, and a few classes in your chosen field. As such, a two-year program may arm you with some foundational knowledge in HR, but you'll need to go on to earn a bachelor's degree, and potentially some certifications if you want to increase the chances of finding a well-paid, challenging position.
While you may be able to find entry-level work in human resources with an associate degree, it's not clear if this investment will pay off in the form of a well-paying long-term career. Many HR jobs require a bachelor's degree, minimum, making it difficult to break into the business without first obtaining a four-year degree. That said, an associate can be a good starting point for those thinking about breaking into the HR field.
Business Degrees & Career Paths
The skills you'll learn in an associate program will help you prepare for entry-level work in the human resources field or similar administrative roles. Pursuing this degree might be a good move for students who want to quickly learn some transferable administration skills that they can use to find work in the near term. From there, graduates can choose to earn work experience while earning their bachelor's degree or spend time working in the field.
As an end-point, an associate degree in human resources might not be the best path toward a stable career. There aren't that many HR jobs that require only a high school diploma or an associate degree, which may make it difficult to find work in a desirable position or really, earn more than about $16 per hour.
While earning this degree can land you an entry-level job, you'll likely be stuck in lower level positions, as most HR positions require a bachelor's degree and some require a master's or additional certifications.
It's also worth mentioning that there are very few associate degree programs in this field, particularly traditional on-campus programs. A better option may be to pursue an associate in a related field such as business management or administration, which will qualify you to work in similar roles.
Certificate vs. Associates
Certificate programs, like associate degrees, are shorter programs designed to help students develop skills they can use in the workplace. However, certificates are often supplemental to a bachelor's degree or marketed as non-degree programs that help students acquire skills/knowledge needed to advance in their career or switch fields.
Many schools have what's called an extension program in which students take the classes that would make up the "major" portion of a bachelor's degree, meaning, if you go for your certificate in HR management, you would only take courses related to HR and business management. Whereas, if you earned a bachelor's degree, you'd take those same HR classes, as well as general education courses and a handful of electives.
An associate degree essentially makes up the first two years of a bachelor's program. Meaning, you'll take your general education classes as well as classes that fall within your chosen major. A certificate program will likely teach you more advanced skills than you'd get in an associate program, but the associate program will count as college credit that can then be used later toward a bachelor's degree.
That said, whether you choose a certificate versus an associate in HR depends on your education level and your goals. A certificate program is best suited for someone who has a bachelor's degree and wants to increase their skill set to advance their pay or help them move up in their career. In some cases, you might look toward a certificate program to help you prepare for a master's degree if you're hoping to earn your degree in a field different from your bachelor's degree major. First-time college students, however, should consider starting with an associate degree and advancing from there.
What Human Resources Associate Degrees are Available?
There aren't many human resources associate degrees available in general. Students considering a career in HR may be better off pursuing a business Associate of Arts (AA) before specializing further during the next phase in their education.
- AA in Human Resource Management:
An AA in Human Resource Management is one of the few HR-specific associate degrees we've come across, though you typically won't find them in a traditional campus setting. We've come across several online programs, and most teach students a combination of general business skills and practical knowledge you'd use in an HR role.
- Associate in Business Administration:
Many community colleges offer general business programs that provide a foundation for future pursuits in HR, accounting, management, and other professions that fall under the broader, business umbrella. In this type of program, you may be able to seek out electives that teach human resources best practices and prepare you for an entry-level role in this field or replace the first two years of a bachelor's degree program that offers more advanced coursework within the HR field.
Most associate programs require a high school diploma or GED for admittance. At this level, students do not need to submit ACT or SAT scores as part of the application process.
How long does it take to earn a Human Resources Associates Degree?
Most associates programs take about two years to complete when you attend full-time. Some online programs offer 18-month accelerated programs designed for working students who want to level up their career quickly.
Potential Careers in Human Resources with an Associates
- HR Assistant
HR assistants work in a support role and are often charged with completing administrative paperwork regarding wages, new hires, and more. We should mention that in many organizations, you might need a bachelor's degree to qualify. However, other companies may choose to hire assistants with an AA and sufficient work experience.
Average Pay: $39,900
- Training Coordinator
Training coordinators are responsible for training and implementing programs for new employees, as well as current ones. Some training coordinators are responsible for designing an organization's training process from start to finish, while others work in a team setting and are responsible for one step in the training process. This person should enjoy teaching and must keep up with changing workplace demands and how to best prepare the workforce to use new technology/equipment.
Average Pay: $49,100
- Benefits Specialist
The benefits assistant works in a clerical role within a company's human resources department. This person interacts with employees and provides them with information about benefits packages, retirement programs, paid time off, and other types of employee programs and benefits. Candidates must have excellent interpersonal skills and be able to protect sensitive information, maintain accurate records, and possess basic clerical skills.
Average Pay: $50,000
- Compliance Specialist
Compliance specialists may work in a healthcare or legal setting or within the human resources department of a company. This person is responsible for making sure that relevant documents comply with industry standards, as well as legal and regulatory guidelines. This person must be highly organized and a skilled communicator.
Average Pay: $55,700
- Payroll Clerk
Payroll assistants process payments for employees within an organization. This role requires a keen eye for detail, and the ability to check payroll calculations, process employee paperwork, and carry out basic accounting tasks. It's also worth pointing out that a payroll assistant must be discreet—as you're handling sensitive information regularly.
Average Pay: $38,000
- Administrative Assistant
While this role isn't necessarily specific to HR, graduates of an AA program may be able to break into this field by earning office experience in an administrative assistant role, which may have some overlap with HR duties. Administrative assistants offer support by way of answering phones, scheduling appointments, and updating calendars. They are typically responsible for tasks like bookkeeping, filing, and maintaining databases.
Average Pay: $39,000
Options to Advance
In most cases, you'll need a bachelor's degree at minimum to work in an office setting, so those HR professionals with an associate degree only will likely have trouble advancing into roles outside of support roles. That said, earning an associate in HR is a great way to enter the workforce, in the capacity of an assistant or associate, so you can gain some work experience and learn whether HR is right for you before completing your bachelor's degree.
Best Associate of Science in Human Resources Programs
Finding a dedicated human resources program at the associate level is quite tricky. In many cases, students interested in pursuing this field end up getting an AA in a related field such as business management or business administration. Below, we've included a few schools that have this program available, but keep in mind that it's relatively uncommon and students seeking an in-person program near their home might not be able to find what they're looking for.
Alexandria Technical and Community College
ATCC is an institution that aims to help their graduates find gainful employment. Their Business Management AAS degree provides students with a strong foundation in business, spanning everything from social media management and sustainability to interpersonal communication, accounting, and human resource management. Students are also required to complete an internship before earning their degree, which presents an opportunity to get some hands-on experience in an office setting.
- Business Management AAS
Guttman Community College
New York, NY
Guttman's Associate of Arts in Business Administration aims to prepare students for entry-level administrative work or a bachelor's degree program. Students will gain a general knowledge of principles and theories used in modern organizations, an understanding of the cultural, social, and regulatory issues found in various business settings, and a foundational background in management, finance, and marketing.
- AA in Business Administration
Mayland Community College
Spruce Pine, NC
Mayland Community College offers an Associate of Applied Science program in Business Administration, which teaches students a bit of everything business. Students can expect to take marketing, accounting, writing, office applications, as well as social sciences and business law. While this isn't an HR-specific AAS program, students will graduate with a well-rounded degree that prepares them for working in an office setting or transferring to a bachelor's program.
- AAS in Business Administration
Santa Barbara City College
Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Barbara City College offers an AA in business administration with the option to specialize in management or entrepreneurship. This program aims to provide students with a background in management and an understanding of how to work collaboratively, solve problems, and deal with ethical and legal issues affecting the modern workplace. While not specific to HR, SBCC's AA program is an excellent first step toward working in this field; coursework includes traditional business courses like finance and economics, as well as human resources, labor relations, and management.
- AA in Business Administration (Management or Entrepreneurship)
Winter Park, FL
Valencia College is one of the few schools with on-campus associate programs geared toward aspiring HR professionals. Students can earn a degree in Business Administration with a specialization in Human Resource Management. The program description states that this degree is ideal for students seeking immediate employment, combining general business education with practical skills they can use in the real world.
- Associate in Business Administration: Specialization in Human Resource Management
Traditional Schools Offering an AS in Human Resources
Fort Collins, Colorado
McKinley College offers an online Associate of Applied Sciences in Human Resources, designed to teach students how to maintain an organization's personnel records and follow best practices when it comes to hiring, training, and terminating employees. The AAS program aims to give students a foundation in HR best practices, laws, and policies used in the modern workplace, as well as further develop the interpersonal skills needed to succeed on the job.
- AAS in Human Resources
Wake Technical Community College
Raleigh, North Carolina
Wake Technical Community College's online AAS degree is a foundational program that covers HR best practices, including training and development, recruitment, compensation and benefits, business ethics, and research and reporting skills.
- AAS in Human Resources
South Texas College
South Texas College also provides an online AAS program for students interested in becoming an HR specialist. This degree aims to teach students the basics of setting wages and salaries, determining benefits packages, investigating employee complaints, and addressing workplace legal issues. Additionally, this online program aims to prepare students for the PHR exam, an entry-level certification offered by the HR Certification Institute.
- AAS in Human Resources
James A. Rhodes State College
The James A. Rhodes State College offers an online Associate of Applied Business in Human Resources, a degree program with a focus on practical workplace skills and HR management theory. Students will learn to set wage structures, evaluate benefits packages, support training, development initiatives, and more. Students will leave the program with a flexible business foundation and the skills needed to work in a generalist HR role.
- Associate of Applied Business in Human Resources
Pennsylvania State University
Pennsylvania, United States
Pennsylvania State University's Associate in Science in Labor & Employment Relations is a program designed to help students prepare for an HR role in government agencies or labor organizations. Students will gain a foundational knowledge of how to handle workplace relations and can use this degree to replace the first two years of a bachelor's program.
- AS in Labor & Employment Relations