Education pays; the more education you have, the more likely you are to find a job and the more you are likely to earn. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that high school graduates earn a median yearly income of $33,072, compared to $37,024 with some college credits and $39,884 with an associate degree. Perhaps more tellingly, unemployment rates for high school graduates were 10.3% in 2010, while those for people with some college were 9.2% and for holders of associate degrees, only 7.0%. A bachelor’s degree raises median earnings to $53,976 and lowers unemployment to 5.4%. Given how frequently military families relocate and how this affects employment outlooks for military spouses, we should seize every advantage we can get to offset those challenges.
In an effort to address some of these concerns and improve quality of life for military families, the Department of Defense offers Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts, or MyCAA, to help military spouses pursue education and credentials in what are considered portable career fields. MyCAA is among the military’s better initiatives; it is simple, practical, and actually provides something substantial and useful. Through MyCAA, if you are the spouse of an active-duty member of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, or Navy, the DoD will pay $4,000 toward a license or certification program or an associate degree.
Most professional certification and licensure programs can be completed in a matter of months and for well under the $4,000 funding cap. For instance, a pharmacy technician certification program available online via James Madison University costs $1,905.95, so it would be covered by one fiscal year’s MyCAA funding. It is wise to compare program costs before choosing a school, however, as charges vary and some schools may be substantially more expensive than others despite providing essentially the same training and awarding essentially the same credentials.
The MyCAA funding should cover most, though probably not all, of the tuition and fees for a two-year associate degree. According to the College Board (the body which administers the SATs, among other things), tuition and fees at a two-year college average roughly $2,700. With MyCAA, all but a few hundred dollars of your degree could be paid for by the Department of Defense, which is a surprisingly good deal.
If your goal is a four-year degree, you may be thinking that it’s a pity MyCAA does nothing for you, but unless you are over halfway through your degree plan, you should give MyCAA and associate degree programs a second look. Compare the $2,700 average cost per year at a two-year community college with the $7,605 average yearly cost for an in-state student at a public four-year school (and remember that if you are considered an out-of-state student, as many military spouses are likely to be, that average yearly cost jumps to $11,990 at a public four-year school). If you can get through the first two years of your degree plan at a community college, you can save a significant amount of money, and an associate degree program is a good way to do that- and MyCAA is a good way to let the Department of Defense pay for it. Having an associate degree also makes it more likely that your credits will transfer when you change schools, as the highly mobile nature of military life may require you to do.
MyCAA can be accessed through Military OneSource (which is a great resource for career, financial, mental health, and other issues facing military families) or at https://aiportal.acc.af.mil/mycaa/Default.aspx. New users will need to register, but the registration process is quick and simple.
If you are unsure of which career or degree interests you, click the “Careers” tab at the top of the page to browse career options by subject- you can use this feature without being registered. If you have a career or degree in mind, click the “Schools and Programs” tab to search by program or by school; the “Program Search” option is the more useful of the two unless you have a specific school in mind, and you can search for schools in your area or for online programs.
In order to apply for funding, MyCAA requires that you declare a goal and submit a plan for approval. The goal is the degree, certificate, or license you are working toward- Pharmacy Technician Certification, for instance, or Associate of Arts in English. The plan outlines the specific course or courses you will take to reach that goal. For certification programs, this typically only involves one course, and the program’s website will usually have a document available giving an outline of the course, information on credit hours, and other data. Save this document and upload it to MyCAA when you submit your plan. Associate degree programs will be slightly more complicated, and you may need to consult a counselor or advisor at your school to design a degree plan.
It may take up to two weeks for the plan to be approved, but it is often slightly faster depending on demand. Once your plan has been approved, you can apply for funding; this may take up to another two weeks, so it is important to plan well in advance when applying for MyCAA funding, although that is true of applying to schools or certification programs in general.
You will need to actually enroll in your program before you can receive funding. For most certification programs, this is as simple as filling out an enrollment form online; if payment is required in advance, most MyCAA-approved schools will have a way for you to enroll by informing them that you will be using MyCAA funding. Associate degree programs will probably require an actual application, so be sure to allow time for this process.
Once your funding is approved, the payment should go to your school automatically, and you will be on your way.