Supporting the educational goals of those who support our servicemembers
Imagine that your employer is one of the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Your superior has given you your latest permanent change of station (PCS), or reassignment. Being relocated is a common practice in the military. You’ve become accustomed to moving every few years — often with only several weeks’ notice.
Your civilian spouse, if employed, must quit his or her job. Odds are slim they’ll be able to work for the same employer in another location like you do. So they must look for a new job, which could require more schooling or relicensing depending on his or her industry or the state you move to. Add to that the likelihood that frequent moves can make it difficult for spouses to earn seniority, promotions or benefit accruals.
Recognizing the sacrifices that spouses make to support their military wives and husbands, the Department of Defense (DOD) created the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program. Since it launched in November 2007, it’s become perhaps the most well-known tuition assistance program specifically for active-duty military spouses. The branch-neutral program was originally intended to help spouses of lower-ranking servicemembers pay for education that could lead to a portable job that could survive frequent relocations. The program was expanded in March 2009 to include all military ranks and all educational levels (Wilson, 2010). Military spouses used their MyCAA accounts to pursue an education at approved schools, including University of Phoenix.
In general, the program intended to:
- Help spouses offset some of the costs of pursuing an education or specialized training for in-demand, transferable jobs.
- Help spouses pay relicensing or recertification fees for jobs in other states that have different licensing requirements.
- Provide job search assistance.
Too much of a good thing
The DOD abruptly shut MyCAA down without warning in mid-February 2010. So many military spouses across the country had eagerly embraced it — in the first 11 months after the program expansion, 136,000 applied, and of them, 98,000 were actively enrolled (Gleason, 2010). Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, explained that MyCAA’s popularity had grown beyond its administrative and financial control. The program was running out of money and couldn’t fund the tuition of so many applicants (Cuts made to MyCAA, 2010). Rather than shuttering the program altogether, the DOD decided to put it on hiatus to review the scope and revisit the qualification criteria.
Tens of thousands of military spouses participating in the program were caught completely off guard — some of them only credits away from earning their degree or certification — and were forced to either scramble for a way to pay their tab or postpone their education plans until MyCAA was resurrected.
After an eight-month review, the MyCAA program was relaunched in late October 2010 with dramatically different qualification criteria and program guidelines that narrow down who is eligible and which education programs are funded. The program — with a $4,000 benefit limit — is now available only to spouses of junior pay grade servicemembers, and only toward associate degrees, licenses and certifications. Studies must be completed within three years from the first day of the first course.
Results of the program thus far
Reaction to the revamped MyCAA program has been mixed among military spouses. Some resent that their education plans had to be put on hold indefinitely because of what they perceive as poor planning and broken promises on the part of the DOD. Others are simply grateful that a program like this exists at all, especially since, as some spouses acknowledge, the military is not obligated in any way to financially support their educational pursuits.
Despite the relatively long hiccup the program experienced in 2010, MyCAA remains a viable tuition assistance program for our nation’s military spouses. Those who no longer qualify for MyCAA can explore alternative ways to fund their education. Some resources with detailed information include:
- Military Spouses Scholarships
- National Military Spouse Network
- Financing options available through University of Phoenix