Survey: Military Spouse Scholarship Underused

College student using a laptop.

More than half of potential users of a Defense Department military spouse scholarship don't know the program exists, a new report finds.

The study, conducted by the RAND Corporation and released early this month, examined answers related to the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) scholarship from about 13,000 spouses in a late 2012 active duty military spouse survey conducted by the Defense Department (DoD).

Of the respondents who had not used MyCAA in the year before the study, "about half were unaware of the program," said Laura Miller, one the study's researchers. "If you dialed down a little deeper you'd see that some of those are newer spouses, they had been married less years. ... It's probably like a lot of military spouse programs -- something that [the DoD] will need to just continuously work to make people aware of."

The MyCAA program pays for up to $4,000 in tuition and some fees for spouses seeking an associate's degree, occupational certificate or portable career field license for spouses of troops E1-E5, O1 and O2 and W1 and W2. The current version began in October 2010 after an earlier version -- which provided more funds and didn't discriminate based on rank -- was pulled because too many people were using it and costs to the Defense Department were higher than anticipated.

Among those eligible to use MyCAA at the time of the survey, 54 percent reported that they were unaware of the program. Forty-three percent of those who said they didn't know about the program had been married to a service member three years or less, and 64 percent of them lived off base.

The study also found confusion among military spouses over who is eligible for the program. About 63 percent of those who said they didn't use MyCAA because they didn't qualify were actually married to an E5 and eligible, the report says.

The report recommends that officials do more to make sure eligible spouses both know about the program and understand what it can do for them.

"Because there is a continuous flow of new spouses into the military community at the MyCAA eligibility level, promotion of MyCAA must be ongoing," the report says.

But the recommendations also go deeper toward linking education help and other military help already available. The report recommends making sure counselors helping spouses know and share information about all of the programs, not just the scholarship.

For example, the authors said, the study found that 68 percent of eligible spouses who wanted to use MyCAA but were not cited "family responsibilities" as their reason. And about 53 percent said childcare expenses were the primary reason they didn't use it. But the DoD offers childcare and family assistance through subsidized programs, and researchers worry that spouses may not know about them.

"If the military spouse is at the career center and they're asking about financial aid for school ... the career counselor could find out about some of these other potential barriers to education to see if they can help the spouse address those," Miller said.

Defense officials said they are aware of the recommendations and already starting to implement them.

"We have been actively working to increase awareness and engagement with eligible spouses, as well as building out resources for the entire spouse population through the expansion of the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program," Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DoD spokesman, said in a statement. "The My Career Advancement Account provides a very valuable benefit to those spouses that are eligible for the program and the Department is committed to maximizing its use."

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at

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