Military Spouse Question of the Week: My husband keeps on saying that he hears wondrous tales of scholarships for military spouses. What does this mean, exactly?

For this week, I have picked the question, “ My husband keeps on saying that he hears wondrous tales of scholarships for military spouses. What does this mean, exactly?” As we already know, military spouse employment has been in the forefront , thanks to Senator Tim Kaine pursuing in closing the gap on the unemployment rate of military spouses, which ranges from three to six times higher than their civilian counterparts.

Most of us military spouses scout for scholarships for us to become more competitive and more marketable in the workforce. With frequent moves, our professional and entrepreneurial careers are put in jeopardy. Having a dual income family is ideal for many for various reasons. In our family, this is our goal so that when my husband retires from military service, he will not be pressured to find his second career the following day after his retirement for us to maintain a certain lifestyle (not that we have an extravagant one!). Nope, I would love for him to wholeheartedly decide on what will be the next chapter for him. If it would be ‘go around the world in a camper van’ , so be it!

I could safely say that from my 16+ years experience as a military spouse — call me “seasoned” or NOT, I really do not mind…honestly, it does not matter if there is a term that needs to be attached to reflect how many years one has been a military spouse. Anyhow, back to the case in point — I have always found a J-O-B that has expanded my skills set and opened new positions in various industries related to my educational background.

Although, I must admit, even IF these positions were aligned with my education; what is dismal about it is the pay scale that some of the employers extend. One thing I learned early are: a) value the fringe benefits of my J-O-B, and b)answer the question, “How will this job strengthen my resume?” rather than focusing on the dollar amount.

Since becoming a military spouse, I was able to take the following three opportunities for me to defray or eliminate the costs of obtaining graduate degrees and certifications:

A. Navy Marine Corps Relief Society’s (NMCRS) Spouse Tuition Assistance Program (STAP)

As a young military spouse living in Yokosuka, Japan in 2002, the NMCRS STAP helped me obtain my Master of Human Relations degree from the University of Oklahoma. Note that my husband was a young E-4 at that time and I was working part time at a co-op preschool. The tuition rate of $250 per credit was hefty. Through the STAP, they covered 70% of my tuition and book costs.

For Navy and Marine Corps spouses, grants and interest free loans through the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, follow this link: http://www.nmcrs.org/pages/education-loans-and-scholarships

B. MyCAA

I was able to knock down NOT just one but TWO professional certificates from reputable educational institutions thanks to the MyCAA program. I took advantage of the fact that I was still eligible for this program with my husband’s rank and the leg up being an Education Counselor for the Navy’s Voluntary Education Program in 2008. The MyCAA covered the following certificates 100%:

  • Professional Certificate in Meeting and Event Planning with San Diego State University’ s College of Extended Studies
  • Human Resources Practices Certificate with Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Too often and I have observed this trend for a few years now: there are a number of trade-oriented programs that hire military spouses as their so-called Academic Counselors to recruit fellow military spouses to their programs and use their MyCAA. A couple of things to note on these programs:

1) My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) for spouses of E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2, and O-1 to O-2, provides up to $4000 for vocational/technical training and associates degrees.

2) Taking on certificate programs that do not earn college credits may lock you in for further advancement in your education. Eventually ‘pigeon holing’ you for a specific trade that you may or may not enjoy after all.

3) While trade programs are great to further your skills — determine your ideal career path and see how this fits in the big picture for your professional development.

I chose to obtain my certificate programs above as extra tools in my back pocket and for the fact that I am already doing some of the work as collateral duties with my then current position. There were numerous times that the knowledge and skills I learned from these two certificates came in handy in my professional life. I did not become a Meeting or Event Planner nor a Human Resources personnel BUT it helped me have an edge over my competition and lead me to become a well rounded employee. Do not be stuck in thinking that you have to obtain that particular certificate program and use it exclusively as your entry to a job. As the saying goes, “do what you love and success will surely follow.”

C. Employer Tuition Assistance

I jumped ship to work for Southern Illinois University Carbondale because of my deep desire to work for a specific mentor (who became my direct supervisor)AND earn my second Master’s degree for free in the process. Even if it meant a huge pay cut! I have seen other people aiming for a position because of the job title and/or the pay. Word of advise — try to focus on the long term benefits! The job title and the pay will fade once you settle in the position and realize that it has become a ‘soul sucking’ opportunity. Quality of life and being part of something bigger than ourselves will endure.

Always check for employers who may extend this opportunity to earn your degree for free. Most colleges and universities will have this perk.

Aside from what I have utilized, there are other resources worth researching and these are explained in Chapter 7 Cost and Payment Resources of the book, “ Balancing Life and Education While Being Part of a Military Family” by Jillian Ventrone, Paul Karczewski, and Robert W. Blue Jr. published by Rowman and Littlefield (February 2017). The chapter discusses the topics of financial goals, MyCAA, transferability of the Post 9/11 MGI Bill benefits for dependents, scholarships (civilian, school, and branch specific), MGI Bill conversion from Chapter 30 to Chapter 33, Yellow Ribbon Program, State-based veterans education benefits that work for benefits, and many more.

I highly recommend the book by Jillian, Paul and Robert, well..aside for the truth that I am one of the few who were requested to complete an editorial review (and I don’t receive anything if you purchase on Amazon). Biased? Yes, BUT this is where you will find credible information from the education professionals who have worked directly with thousands of active duty military, veterans, and their families. Because if you will invest your time, effort and money in pursuing education, you need to make sure you are leaning in to secure your ROI (Return of Investment).

Last but not the least, here’s a list of additional resources, courtesy of Mr. Robert W. Blue, Jr. who freely shared the list in our Facebook Group, “College Success Planning 101” and anyone in the military community (active, retired, civilian) are free to request to be added, just click on the group’s name for the link.

Army Emergency Relief Scholarship

Air Force Aid Society

Coast Guard Foundation Scholarships

Surface Navy Association

Pat Tillman Foundation

Anchor Scholarship Foundation

National Military Family Association Scholarships

Thanks USA

Navy Spouse Club (2 scholarships annually for spouses of Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard)

Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) Scholarship Finder

Starbucks Coffee allows employed military and vets to transfer to family members a scholarship for Arizona State University online (part-time employees too)

Spouses of military serving in California may qualify for free tuition at California Community Colleges through the Promise Grant. Contact the financial aid office of any California Community College (such as Coast College Community District and Palomar College, to name a few)for details. If the military member is serving in California, the spouse must be living in California too in order to qualify.

Please send me a message at robedoza@ou.edu for resources that are not mentioned above or for any education/career-related questions you may have that I could assist you with. Happy to help!