Report Shows MyCAA Is Linked With Higher Earnings Among MilSpouses

An Early Evaluation of the MyCAA Scholarship for Military Spouses

Past research has shown that compared to spouses of U.S. civilians, spouses of U.S. military personnel tend to earn less and are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, even when they have more years of education or more work experience. To mitigate the impact of the demands of military life, in 2007, the Department of Defense established a portfolio of initiatives that provide career development and employment assistance for military spouses. One such initiative is the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship, which targets spouses whose service member is early in his or her career. The scholarship provides up to $4,000 in financial assistance for spouses pursuing associate degrees, occupational certificates or licenses in portable career fields.

There has been an update to the program, a new law expanded the scholarship allowing spouses to receive financial assistance to pursue any occupation or career field. In addition, military spouses will remain eligible for the financial assistance offered through the MyCAA scholarship if their sponsor is promoted above the eligible ranks so long as they already have an approved education and training plan in place.

This report examines characteristics associated with MyCAA Scholarship application and use, scholarship plan completion, spouse employment and earnings and service continuation of personnel married to MyCAA-eligible spouses. The RAND Corporation examined the 2007–2013 employment and earnings data of spouses who were eligible for MyCAA when the current version of the scholarship began, between October 2010 and December 2011. The results show that the MyCAA Scholarship is reaching the intended population; that MyCAA is associated with employment and higher earnings, although the relationship is not necessarily causal; and that service members of MyCAA Scholarship users are more likely than similar married service members to be on active duty three years after the spouse is awarded the scholarship.

Key Findings

Over 380,000 military spouses were eligible for the MyCAA Scholarship between October 2010 and December 2011 add
At least 34 percent of the users in the 2010/2011 cohort were known to have completed their plans by the end of the three-year scholarship window. add
Use of MyCAA funds is associated with positive changes in employment and earnings (but further analyses are necessary to support any causal claims) add
MyCAA usage is positively associated with service member continuation add

Recommendations List

  • Ensure that spouses across the services are aware of the MyCAA Scholarship.
  • Because known completion rates are lower among spouses of new enlistees, consider targeted outreach or a minimum service requirement for spouses of new military personnel.
  • Where feasible, help students look for alternatives to industry-only accredited schools and to schools that offer only online instruction.
  • Develop a process for withdrawing approval for schools with high course failure and plan noncompletion rates. Ensure, however, that schools are not penalized for attracting disadvantaged or higher-risk students—only for providing a poor-quality education.
  • Develop benchmarks for midpoint plan reviews to help identify spouses that may need additional support or guidance from a career counselor.
  • Make career counselors aware of courses of study with high course failure or plan noncompletion rates so they can take care to ensure that spouses understand what is involved.
  • Actively encourage MyCAA users who are dropping classes to do so officially, so the Department of Defense receives a refund and the school does not record the classes as “failed.”
  • Initiate contact with students who failed a course, to understand context, such as, poor school-student fit, competing obligations, and particularly challenging courses, and to offer them help to figure out how to address what happened.
  • Recognize that MyCAA completion metrics likely underestimate completion, as some spouses likely complete their course of study after they are no longer eligible for MyCAA funds, and thus that completion would not typically be reported to MyCAA.