Veterans education has been top-of-mind lately, especially as we’ve seen a drawdown in key military operations overseas. But have we as a nation paid enough attention to the “force behind the force”? How are colleges and higher education institutions supporting our nation’s military spouses?
Last week, Sean Collins of Victory Media, and Kate Dolack, Editor-in-Chief of Military Spouse Magazine, held a webinar with nearly 200 higher education representatives to review the unique lifestyle and post-secondary education needs of military spouse students—starting with the very idea that military spouses are different.
Military Spouses: They Serve, Too.
- There are an estimated 1.1MM Military Spouses (based on the number of Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard service members).
- Though thousands of men support their wives in uniform (in fact, we celebrate this fact), women still make up the majority of this community.
- Over half of Military Spouses are under the age of 30.
- Over half have a college degree.
- Military families move every 2-3 years by way of “PCS” (Permanent Change of Station).
- Between 250-400k service members separate from military service each year; our research shows that more than 70% of Post-9/11 veterans are open to relocation.
- At any given time, up to a quarter of Military Spouses are in transition, between PCS and moving as a result of separating from military service.
- Over half of Military Spouses attended two or more schools to complete their education.
- More than 60% enrolled in distance education.
- 17% were currently in school.
- More than ⅓ had issues with credit transferability.
3 Ways Schools Can Support Military Spouses
Many post-secondary schools want to reach Military Spouses as prospective students and as influencers, considering their role as family decision-maker. So, how can schools meet their unique needs and preferences?
1. Be “PCS Friendly.”
If you were moving your family every 2-3 years, you might think twice about signing up for a “brick and mortar” campus, or one with limited flexibility. Being PCS-friendly means portability of credits—if I start my studies here, can I finish there? Being PCS-friendly also means offering nontraditional classes. Accredited schools offering full online course offerings and/or flexibility to take some courses online and in-person classes at on-campus locations (at the named school or a partner institution) will attract Military Spouse students. And, come to think of it, other students, too.
2. Be Military Friendly®.
Veterans prefer to go to a school with demonstrated support of student veterans. Veterans don’t want charity; they want empathy with tangible benefits. Benefits like student groups for veterans to connect with each other. Representatives who understand the ins and outs of GI Bill benefits and how to help the student use them. Flexible class delivery. Veterans centers with job search assistance and job placement.
It’s no different with Military Spouses. Not only will a Military Friendly® School be better able to support the veteran; a Military Friendly® School can offer many of the same services to Military Spouses, and even tailored services like childcare options.
3. Tie Your Programs to Career Outcomes.
Like most students (and parents) today, Military Spouses are scrutinizing the ROI for hard-earned education dollars—that is, did this degree, program or certificate (along with my related living and commuting expenses) help me get a satisfying job? Am I able to make a living wage in this field? Can I support my family? Am I able to do what I love with all of the above?
Like traditional students, many Military Spouses rely on financial assistance to go to school (or back to school), which may include transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits from their service member spouse and/or My Career Advancement Account Scholarship (MyCAA) tuition assistance. Whatever the case, schools must show how their programs are connected to careers, and partner with employers looking to hire military spouses and veterans, both locally and nationwide.
Military Spouse Students: Resilient and Ready for School.
Military Spouses are not traditional students. They are holding down the fort at home, making financial, purchasing, and household decisions large and small, raising children and frequently working part-time while going to class. They are master jugglers, tackling education with the same commitment, energy and resilience as they do in other areas of their lives. What college or school wouldn’t want more students like that?