In the last week four out of five services – the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard – have halted their servicemember tuition assistance programs thanks to sequestration. The Navy is the only service still offering the benefit to its members. But what about the spouses?
DoD is silent on the fate of MyCAA, the tuition assistance program offered to military spouses regardless of branch.
"... Because of the current fiscal situation, we are evaluating all programs across the department," Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde told us. "At this time, I have no specific announcements to make related to MyCAA."
Still experts on education program funding expect DoD to announce any day that they will close MyCAA.
“I would expect DoD to suspend MyCAA very soon,” Terry Howell, Military.com’s education benefits expert, told us. “Like (tuition assistance) the DoD is being very quiet about their next moves.”
If MyCAA is suspended the same way the servicemember tuition assistance programs have been, those who are currently enrolled in courses will not be impacted.But no one will be able to enroll in new classes unless the program is restored.
But whether or not it would come back may even be in question. DoD officials told me in 2012 that an expansion of the program was out of the question due to funding constraints. And now that we’re in a belt tightening era programs like MyCAA may be the first to go permanently.
“I think the longevity of the MyCAA program has long been in question, not just because of recent budget cuts, but because of the question of how effective this program is,” said Bianca Stzalkowski, founder of the Military Spouse Education Initiative. “I believe MyCAA was created as an incentive when we were expanding the Marine Corps and Army, and now that we have to downsize I believe it will go away.”
When first launched the scholarship, dubbed Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts or MyCAA, allowed spouses in families of all ranks to receive up to $6,000 in tuition. But the program was so wildly popular with over 130,000 spouses applying within a year of its 2009 opening, that it quickly outpaced its funding. Officials abruptly shuttered the service to new applicants in early 2010, pledging to review and reopen it in the future.
The program was restarted eight months later with drastic benefit cuts and a stiff rank cap barring spouses from most officer and senior enlisted families. The cap was met with a furious outcry from excluded spouses who felt their time in a service family had earned them the benefit.
But the revamping achieved its goal of cutting users. So drastic was the drop in enrollment that DoD asked the Senate to shrink their funding request for the program in fiscal 2102 from $190 million to mere $70 million.
Of that request only $66 million was spent in fiscal 2012. About 37,000 spouses used MyCAA last year, according to DoD.
Officials were not able to get us current MyCAA usage or funding statistics by deadline.
If MyCAA goes away altogether, however, all is not lost Stzalkowski says.
“My reaction to the elimination of the MyCAA would be that spouses can turn to alternative sources of funding for their education that will allow the spouse to choose their own degree path, such as a Pell Grant, scholarships through the Spouse Clubs, branch aid societies, and private organizations like the National Military Family Association and Thanks USA,” she said. “Programs like MyCAA that limit a spouse to an Associate's degree do not positively impact a spouse's ability to get the kind of job they desire. If it did, we wouldn't have an approximate 26 percent unemployment rate among our military spouses. If the Department of Defense wants to create an education program it needs to be effective, not just a check in the box to say they are giving a benefit to spouses.”
If you’re in the market for degree funding or education help or ideas, make sure to check out Stzalkowski’s Military Spouse Education Initiative.