Lawmakers have ordered defense officials to conduct an extensive review of military spouse education programs to determine their effectiveness, as well as how important they are to service members’ decisions to stay in the military.

Under the legislation, Pentagon officials will assess the costs of providing education opportunities for military spouses as an incentive to retain service members, compared with the costs of recruiting and training new service members.

Along with the review, Congress wants defense officials to recommend ways to improve spouse education programs.

At a minimum, officials must also evaluate the effectiveness of all Defense Department and Veterans Affairs Department programs to advance education opportunities for military spouses and assess the programs’ influence on service members’ decisions to stay in the military.

Military Spouses Education Program

Military Spouses Education Program

The requirement is one provision of the 2011 defense authorization bill, which at press time was awaiting President Obama’s signature. The review will be due 180 days after the law is enacted.

The House version of the bill contained the provision requiring the review; the Senate version did not. Senators agreed to add the provision, but also added VA programs that support military spouse education for inclusion in the review.

“It’s interesting they’re just looking at education and not spouse employment,” said Katie Savant, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association.

If lawmakers want the Pentagon to look at retention issues for younger troops, she said, “ultimately, spouses are really looking for a job. You need a job to help pay the bills.”

“Some people may not be able to find employment, so they turn to education. We have a highly educated population, but that may not translate to a job” for the spouse because of the location or other reasons, she said.

Military spouse education was thrust into the spotlight last year after DoD abruptly halted its popular My Career Advancement Accounts program Feb. 16, less than a year after its launch, because a flood of applications threatened to drain its funding.

Spouses raised objections with defense officials and lawmakers, and the program was reinstated in March for those already enrolled. On Oct. 25, it reopened under new rules, and is now available only to spouses of service members in paygrades E-1 through E-5, W-1 and W-2, and O-1 and O-2. Total payouts were reduced from $6,000 per spouse to $4,000.

MyCAA supports a variety of educational, credentialing and licensing programs to further portable careers, but it no longer supports work toward four-year or postgraduate degrees.