As a Nation we recognize the enormous sacrifices our military make on a daily basis in order to maintain a strong and ready force. Sustaining strong military readiness involves the entire family. Often, spouses choose to delay formal training and education in order to support the needs of the nation and their warrior partner. Spouses often mention to me that their life feels nomadic, moves taking place every 2-3 years. It’s important to note however that spouses are also vital for the economic stability of military families. It is estimated that approximately 83% of those entering military service depart the military prior to retirement. Most of our current military families will be competing in the job market and contributing to our economy for many more years outside of service than the time they served in the military. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics having a Bachelor’s degree nearly doubles the median annual wage an individual would earn. Currently, 84% of spouses have some college, 25% have a bachelor’s degree, and 10% have an advanced degree. Facilitating the opportunity to pursue higher education not only helps to support self-esteem and personal actualization, it can also strengthen financial stability for their families.
Over the last two years Joining Forces has committed to working with state legislatures and Governors to cut the red tape for military spouse credentialing and licensing portability. To date, there are 36 states that have enacted legislation with 9 more considering legislation this year. Credentialing and licensing portability are critical for military spouse employment, but prior to employment it is crucial for military spouses to be able to pursue the higher education needed to secure these qualifications.
Securing funding for school is vital for military spouses who are likely to move at least once if not more while attaining their degree or certifications. In 2009, the Post 9/11 GI Bill was created to allow service members to transfer their unused benefits to their spouse or dependent(s). Depending on the unused benefits this could provide up to 36 months of tuition assistance for spouses and dependents.
There are several other scholarship programs available to military spouses as well. The Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) Scholarship is an employment assistance program that provides up to $4000 of financial assistance to the spouses of junior ranking servicemembers who are pursuing a license, certification or Associate’s degree in a portable career field and occupation. Operation Homefront and the Women’s Selfworth Foundation offer scholarships to military wives who attend vocational training programs in the medical field. The Pat Tillman Foundation offers annual scholarships to military spouses based on financial need with an on average award of $11,000 per scholar. Bryant & Stratton College Online offers a Salute to Spouses $6,000 scholarship for military spouses. The National Military Family Association awards scholarships through the Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship to obtain professional certification or to attend post secondary or graduate school.
Each of the military services has scholarship programs to assist military spouses in following their higher education dreams. For example, the Army Emergency Relief: Spouse Education Assistance Program (SEAP) is designed to provide military spouses with the financial assistance needed to pursue a 4-year college degree. There are two separate programs, an Overseas Spouse Education Assistance and State Spouse Education Assistance Program. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) provides both scholarships and no-interest loan programs. The Air Force Aid Society provides the General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program to offer a $2,000 grant. There is also the Air Force Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) providing partial tuition assistance for spouses of active duty airmen.
In times when the military spouse must take over as the primary source of income for the family given a total disability or death of their servicemember, it can be even more critical for them to attain a degree or certification. Specific scholarships are provided to these military spouses through programs such as the Spouse and Dependent Education Program and Folds of Honor Foundation.
There are numerous scholarships and programs available for military spouses and dependents. That is why Gail A. Schlacter and R. David Weber produced Financial Aid for Veterans, Military Personnel, and Their Families. This book identifies billions of dollars set aside in more than 1,400 programs. In the 2012-2014 edition of this book every major field of study are sponsored by more than 550 different private and public agencies and organizations. Additionally, The Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program works to provide military spouses with comprehensive resources and tools to strengthen their education and career opportunities. Trained counselors help spouses identify their career interests and aptitudes. They provide information about today’s job market and work opportunities, including portable skills and careers, entrepreneurship and federal employment options. Counselors help spouses learn about education options and licensing or credentialing requirements. They also help spouses identify, compare and weigh the costs of potential schools and programs to help them reach their career goals.
Education is vital for securing stable employment. Help us connect our military spouses to services and opportunities that can assist them gaining access by sharing the resources available to them. In doing so we are not only strengthening the employment opportunities for spouses, but we are also preserving the readiness of our military and veteran families.
Rosye B. Cloud is the Director of Policy for Veterans, Wounded Warriors, and Military Families