Online Degrees in Operations Management

Organizations are always looking at ways to improve their operations, as optimizing outdated, underperforming processes can provide measurable benefits. Customer service, production times, effective use of resources -- these are all functions that companies want to make as efficient as possible in order to raise productivity. These positive changes can eliminate excess waste, reduce needless expenditures and help increase revenues.

Online business degree programs in operations management typically feature foundational courses in accounting practices, supply chain efficiency, and process design and layout. Those pursuing a graduate degree tend to study more advanced topics, such as statistical quality control, spreadsheet modeling, international business and managerial economics. These skills may help degree holders move into positions at large corporations, nonprofit organizations or any other entity that is concerned with streamlining their production and processes.

Associate Degree in Operations Management: Students enrolled in online associate programs can generally complete the degree in two years of full-time study. Topics may include process analysis and control, project management, business statistics and supply chain management. In addition to the fundamentals of operations management, students usually take general education courses in order to complete their associate degree. These classes can include mathematics, communications, history, English composition, and social and natural sciences. Graduates may be able to enter the workforce once they earn their degree, or they can apply their credits towards a bachelor's degree at a four-year institution.

Bachelor's Degree in Operations Management: These programs can usually be completed with four years of full-time study, or in two years if students earned an associate degree first. Online schools typically offer this degree in two variants: a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Operations Management or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Business Administration with a concentration in operations management. Courses can be very similar, except the B.S. tends to focus more on business-related classes. An online bachelor's degree program offers a deeper understanding of quality management, project administration and supply chain management. Students may also receive training in topics like Six Sigma, transportation logistics and human resources. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates of these and other business-related programs may qualify for positions such as logisticians, industrial production managers, administrative services managers or operations research analysts (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

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Master's Degree in Operations Management: Students can usually earn this degree in one of two forms: a Master of Science (M.S.) or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in operations management. The M.S. program typically teaches students how to manage personnel and production, while the MBA program focuses more on training individuals to make decisions for businesses as a whole. In addition to a bachelor's degree, these programs generally take two years of study to complete. Graduates may be qualified for positions such as management analysts, medical and health services managers, or human resource managers (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

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Doctoral Degrees in Operations Management: Online doctorates in operations management typically come in one of two forms: a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Operations Management, or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) with a concentration in operations management. A Ph.D. path can help train students to become postsecondary educators or researchers, with courses such as mathematical programming, production systems and facilities design. Individuals earning a DBA, on the other hand, may learn skills needed to become top executives or consultants by taking classes like strategic planning, global challenges, and how to lead innovation and change,

Along with core curriculum courses, students are generally required to produce a dissertation before they complete their degree program. The dissertation is an original contribution to the field of operations management produced through extensive research and analysis. Typically, students work with faculty mentors, who, after approving the dissertation topic, offer guidance when needed.

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Career Opportunities for Graduates of Operations Management Programs

Businesses large and small often seek ways to operate more efficiently and effectively. This may involve improvements in supply chain management, resource allocation and disbursement, warehousing, quality control, and response times for customer service. Students who enroll in online operations management degree programs can learn the skills to analyze these business practices and enhance them. With this training, graduates may find employment opportunities in health care facilities, large corporations, nonprofit organizations, or even government agencies.

Average Salary
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
General and Operations Managers2,289,770$123,8809.1%
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

Operations managers focus on turning raw materials into high-quality products in the most efficient manner possible. Their expertise helps businesses save money, reduce turnaround time and produce products that better meet consumer expectations.

Online bachelor's degree programs in operations management combine an introduction to fundamental business topics with a focus on the specific skills needed to manage logistics or operations processes, such as labor relations, manufacturing, cost control and resource planning. Specializations in operations management, supply chain management, process management and logistics management all provide a similar focus on streamlining processes, though the specific emphasis may vary from one degree program to another.

What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Operations Management Entail?

At the bachelor's degree level, operations management programs are typically designed to take four years of full-time study. The amount of time a program takes to complete depends both on the school's curriculum and how efficiently a student is able to complete the required classes.

Coursework includes a focus on quantitative skills such as accounting and cost analysis as well as theory and modeling courses that prepare students to analyze processes and improve inefficiencies. Possible course topics include:

  • Supply Chain Management:This course focuses on teaching skills necessary to managing all parts of a supply chain, from procurement to transportation to warehousing. Courses may cover theoretical and planning models used to develop supply chains as well as real-world processes and problems. For example, students may study companies like Wal-Mart whose scalable solutions allow the company to quickly restock sold-out items without devoting valuable space to a surplus of stock, which helps them keep costs down while meeting consumer demand. Specific topics may also include negotiation and contracts, warehouse layout and design, and inventory control.
  • Occupational Safety: Depending on the field, operations managers may be responsible for storing and transporting hazardous materials or regulated substances. Additionally, operations managers need to consider human safety when designing production processes. Specific topics within a course on occupational safety could include compliance with workplace safety regulations, accident prevention and emergency response.
  • Cost Control: Operations managers need to be able to accurately compare costs and benefits across systems in order to help an organization function efficiently. This course focuses on understanding cost systems, including cash flow and different types of costs, as well as developing analytical skills to evaluate the financial impact of business decisions. Coursework may include an introduction to specific cost control software and basic principles of economics.

Bachelor's degree programs also include general education or core coursework requirements such as English, liberal arts and science courses, as well as elective courses, which can be customized based on a student's interests. For example, operations management majors may benefit from elective courses in computer and information systems to better understand how technology can be used to track and manage inventory. Students with an interest in global supply chains may take courses in international affairs or international business to better understand how to work in an international environment.

Some bachelor's degree programs in operations management are designed specifically for students with a technical background. These programs, which are sometimes referred to as 2 + 2 programs, generally combine two years of technical or vocational training with two years of business training. These programs are geared toward students who have already completed an associate degree in a technical field. Transfer credit requirements vary by school, so be sure to consult with an admissions counselor before enrolling.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Operations Management

A bachelor's degree in operations management helps to prepare students for a range of careers in the business world. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) predicts 18 percent job growth nationwide for business operations specialists between 2010 and 2020, and growth in these fields will likely be driven by a combination of global economic forces as well as an ongoing push for efficiency and cost savings. Operations specialists can apply their expertise to help businesses streamline processes and budgets.

For example, cost estimators, who are projected to see 36 percent growth nationwide between 2010 and 2020 (bls.gov), weigh multiple factors to help businesses develop an accurate budget and evaluate the profitability of a project. Logisticians, who are projected to see 26 percent growth nationwide from 2010 to 2020 (bls.gov), help businesses manage globalizing supply chains in order to compete in an international market. A bachelor's degree in operations management can help graduates move into other business operations specialties as well, including careers in purchasing, production planning and inventory management.

An online master's in operations management helps students develop specialized expertise and leadership skills in the production of goods and services. Individuals can earn either a Master of Science (MS) degree or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in operations management. Both programs help to provide the training needed to manage personnel and inventory efficiently, ultimately increasing a company's cash flow through streamlined operations. Students also learn about the interconnectivity of global markets and various techniques in conflict resolution.

What Does a Master's Degree Program in Operations Management Entail?

Both the MS and MBA emphasize universal business practices such as finance budgeting and resource allocation. The main difference between the two degree programs is that the MS focuses on teaching theory as it applies to managing personnel and production processes, while the MBA focuses on teaching management theory as it applies to business administration as a whole. The curriculum for each degree may have a few overlapping courses, but classes can differ depending on the chosen program. Both degrees normally take about two years of full-time study to complete.

Courses typically found in MS programs include:

  • Critical Thinking in Management: Students are tasked with honing their critical thinking skills through analysis of case studies. By developing evidence-based solutions to the presented scenarios, students are better able to transfer their knowledge to real-world situations. For example, if a firm needs to fill open positions, the hiring manager must diligently sift through resumes and interview information in order to make well-informed decisions. A manager can define minimum standards and set expectations of each specific opening, then work with other department heads to agree on the best candidate for each role.
  • Resolving Conflicts: This course trains students on how to handle disputes, helping to develop critical listening, bargaining strategy, and negotiation skills. Students may participate in role-play exercises with peers in order to practice these skills. For example, a manager of a department store may have two employees who do not like to work together. In speaking to each employee about the dispute, the manager can learn both perspectives and come to a just compromise, enabling a healthier work environment.

Possible course topics in MBA programs with an operations management concentration:

  • Global Leadership and Management: Students study various management styles and techniques, discussing the benefits of the different theories. To prepare for the global marketplace, students learn to communicate with foreign cultures and societies through case studies, analyzing useful methods of feedback and practicing them in class discussion forums. The additional awareness and sensitivity to other cultures' norms helps avoid possible social faux pas when interacting with them.
  • Marketing Analysis: Students learn about the connections between successful marketing strategies and business management, including how to make decisions based on incomplete or fluctuating market information. Students develop strategies on how to price products depending on the target demographic as well as promotional tactics to differentiate themselves from competitors' products. For example, if organic foods were found to be more popular among affluent individuals, local organic meat suppliers could likely charge premium prices for their products.

In addition to the core curriculum, students may need to complete a number of specialization courses, including project management, corporate finance and international business. Students interested in people-oriented positions may opt for coursework in human resources to learn how to hire and train employees, and how to manage payroll and benefits. Prospective students should check with an academic advisor about possible courses.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Operations Management

A master's degree in operations management helps graduates apply the theories and practices that can promote a more productive workplace. For individuals working in the health services industry, earning a master's in operations management could lead to a potential career as a health services manager. This occupation helps improve the quality of health care delivery, finance management, compliance regulations, and schedule coordination. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), health services management positions are expected to grow by about 22 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020.

Professionals working toward their MBA may use the degree as a catalyst to switch into a consultant role as management analysts. Individuals in this occupation help companies become more efficient by analyzing the organization and providing possible solutions to observed inefficiencies. According to bls.gov, management analyst positions are expected to grow around 22 percent nationwide from 2010 through 2020. A bachelor's degree is the entry-level requirement, but many firms prefer their analysts have an MBA.

Doctoral degrees are the pinnacle of educational success, signifying that a graduate is a foremost expert in their field. For those seeking to earn an online doctoral degree in operations management, there are two different pathways to explore: the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), and the Doctor of Philosophy in operations management (Ph.D.). The DBA is typically for students looking to assume leadership roles within a company, or become a business consultant. The Ph.D., on the other hand, is for students who are interested in conducting and publishing research, or becoming a teacher in colleges and universities.

What Does a Doctoral Degree Program in Operations Management Entail?

An online doctoral degree may take up to seven years, or longer, to complete depending on the school, program and student's aptitude. Most schools require that prospective students have a master's degree in operations management, business management or a related field before applying for a Ph.D. or DBA program. They may also require three to five years of professional experience. The choice of doctoral degree program will dictate the types of classes offered.

Those pursuing a DBA are trained in how to run businesses that cater to a global marketplace and the cultural, ethical and legal challenges involved therein. Other courses provide a background in understanding the process of innovation, focusing on five levels of analysis: individual, team, network, organizational and industrial. Students may also learn about the social responsibilities of corporations, and how they can operate ethically while still maximizing profits. For example, students may learn that moving to green technologies may cost their company more in the short term, but is less taxing on the local environment and provides positive publicity - yielding long-term economic benefits.

Students who choose to enroll in Ph.D. programs can find courses that teach the theories and practices of research, including qualitative and quantitative analysis. Other classes focus on the differences between individual and group decisions, and the responsibilities of managing those choices. Students also learn the philosophy of science and the impact that producing research can have on public discourse and knowledge. Some schools offer classes on teaching, in the event that students seeking Ph.D.s are interested in positions as postsecondary educators.

In addition to completing the core courses involved in earning either degree, students have to produce a doctoral dissertation. This is a paper based on original research, study and analysis of a problem facing the field. A panel of faculty members chosen by the doctoral candidate and his/her department chair reviews the information and conclusions formed through the research. The student must then successfully defend the dissertation to the panel, answering any questions that may come up.

Some programs may have residency requirements. Speak to an academic advisor to find out more.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Doctoral Degree Programs in Operations Management

By learning advanced theories and practices of how to manage companies and personnel, graduates who earn Ph.D.s and DBAs in operations management may have the opportunity to move into managerial or executive positions within their current companies, become researchers, or teach at the college level. The possibility of advancement brings with it the chance to earn more money and handle more responsibilities. Some possible career titles include management analyst, human resources manager and business professor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov/ooh, 2012) expects national employment of management analysts to rise 22 percent between 2010 and 2020. Meanwhile, postsecondary teachers and human resources managers should see employment gains of 17 and 13 percent, respectively.

"Administrative Services Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/administrative-services-managers.htm
"Cost Estimators," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/cost-estimators.htm
"Human Resource Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm
"Industrial Production Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition) Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/industrial-production-managers.htm
"Logisticians," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/logisticians.htm
"Management Analysts," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts.htm
"Medical and Health Services Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Management/Medical-and-health-services-managers.htm
"Operations Research Analysts," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/math/operations-research-analysts.htm
"Postsecondary Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm

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