Best HR Master Program: Cornell University

So, you want to pursue a graduate degree in Human Resources but you're torn between the two approaches that have been advised to you. Some say your best bet is getting your MBA. Others insist an HR Masters would be more beneficial.

Like many, you may feel paralyzed with indecision regarding how to move forward. The good news is that you shouldn't worry over the options so much. Ultimately, the best course to follow depends on a combination of each individual's educational needs, career aspirations, and personal preferences.

HR Executive Jobs Requires Deep Financial and Business Knowledge

Regardless of your decision, both the MBA and HR Masters require the same core competency: deep financial and business knowledge. Chief HR Officers, or CHROs, for global companies are paid millions of dollars for their abilities and have the capacity to directly influence their employer's bottom-line.

Despite the seemingly infinite number of rankings for graduate programs that are available in-print or online, there is currently no definitive ranking of HR Graduate Programs in the U.S. Below is one such ranking. Although the schools in the list have been ranked according to their HR Masters Programs, many also offer MBA degrees with an Emphasis in HR and are evaluated on that as well.

Rankings certainly have inherent flaws, and therefore should never be taken as conclusive or immutable. Instead, such lists should be viewed as guideposts for prospective students and corporate recruiters alike.

The most important aspects of each program considered are as follows: starting salaries, class demographics, depth of curriculum, faculty prestige, amount of recruiting companies, size and quality of alumni, historical legacy, and number of internships offered.

A brief explanation following each school will provide more detailed analysis.

Cornell Offers Two Options for HR Graduate Studies

Perhaps the biggest advantage offered by Cornell's stellar HR Program is that it offers two degrees for prospective HR executives.

The first option is The Cornell Master of Industrial and Labor Relations Program. With over 50 years of experience, the MILR Program has a reputation that is largely unparalleled. It's structured as a two-year program with a broad-based curriculum that also allows for a focus on one of five specialty areas:

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

The HR & Organizations track attracts most students looking for corporate-level HR jobs. MILR students are eligible to take a semester of study at the Johnson School of Business, consistently ranked within the top 20 b-schools nationally. MILR students can choose to supplement their HR education with core business classes offered by Johnson, such as Accounting, Finance, Marketing, and Strategy. Students from both schools sponsor the SHRLOE (Strategic HR, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness) symposium, which meets annually and exemplifies the connectivity of the two exceptional schools.

The second option is a joint MBA/MILR degree that Cornell HR students can complete in five semesters. Combining the advantages of the HR Master program with an MBA from highly ranked Johnson School of Business, this is seen as the preeminent program offered anywhere today. MILR and MBA/MILR students often compete for the same high-level internships and top jobs, but the MBA/MILRs tend to enjoy much higher salaries and signing bonuses. This is a benefit of both the broader experience most MBA/MILRs have and the value recruiters place on a dual degree. While other top-ranked HR programs offer dual-degrees, Cornell's is the only one to combine the resources of two such elite schools as Johnson and ILR.

The secret to Cornell's successful HR Graduate program is actually the strength of the university's undergraduate offerings. Because ILR has an undergraduate program, the faculty and staff for both levels collaborate to create one of the greatest resources for the study of HR issues in the world. Former ILR undergrads have gone on to be some of the top executives in the HR business, creating an expansive network of tremendous value for aspiring students.

The Cornell Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies

This has resulted in The Cornell Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, a one-of-a-kind partnership between academia and corporate groups that fosters leaders in the HR field. Corporate sponsors for the center include high-tech companies (IBM, Microsoft, Dell) and industrial giants (GE, Ingersoll-Rand, Northrup Grumman). CAHRS executives and sponsors are widely represented in the National Academy of Human Resources and HR Policy Association, both known for their far-reaching influence.

The networking opportunities possible due to CHARS are significant and unable to be duplicated in any other HR program. The annual CHARS roundtable allows for one-on-one interaction between students and CHROs from over 20 sponsor companies.

One additional factor that separates Cornell from other HR programs is its connection to the Ivy League. As one of the most prestigious, well-endowed schools in the nation, the name recognition alone allows Cornell's HR program advantages that its competitors simply do not have.

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