by Laura Ott, PhD, Guest Contributor
There are definite perks to the military lifestyle. Guaranteed health care, housing allowances, shopping at the commissary and exchange, and opportunities to live in places we may have never imagined. None of these, however, top the sense of pride we have for our spouses, who bravely defend our country.
The military lifestyle, however, is not always easy. There are many aspects of our chosen lives that are challenging and often not fully understood by the civilian community.
One issue that is garnering a lot of attention is spouse education and career advancement. These two issues are intimately related because let’s face it, in today’s economy some form of education or training is often needed to climb the career ladder. And climbing the career ladder is something that many milspouses deeply desire.
Spouse employment was highlighted recently by the publication of the Military Spouse Employment Report (published in 2014). This report showed that the unemployment rate for active duty female military spouses is double (yes, double!) the rate of our civilian counterparts. The unemployment rate is even greater for military spouses between the ages of 18 and 24 years old. While spouses reported underemployment based on their education and training, the report also highlighted that many spouses were seeking an education to advance their career, increase earnings and their own intellectual curiosity.
But given the military lifestyle, it can be hard to maintain a career, let alone complete the education or training needed to land the job that we so desire. Even with our incredibly supportive spouses, it’s hard to attend school or work full time amidst constant deployments, frequent relocations and other aspects of military life. I want to change this!
Throughout my time as a military spouse and educator, I have had the pleasure of interacting with many military spouse students. Each story is unique, but all involve challenges in some form that are not often experienced by other student demographics on campus. The military has realized that spouse education and career advancement opportunities need to be addressed if they are to retain high caliber service members. While I feel that there is room for improvement, the military has started to address these issues by launching programs to support milspouse students, such as MyCAA accounts and allowing service members to transfer their post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to dependents.
In my opinion, the military should not receive the entire burden of assisting military spouse students. I think that institutions of higher education can also assist military spouses (or dependents in general) find educational and career success. Isn’t helping students find success the overall mission of colleges and universities? As someone who’s spent the past 10 years in academia, I would love to see more institutions initiate military dependent specific programming on campuses.
Supporting the needs of milspouse students has become my mission. As a researcher, I think the most powerful way to affect change is to have data supporting your cause. This is why I’m writing this blog post.
To date, very little research attention (particularly within academia) has been given to investigate how military spouse students are pursing their education. In addition to the Military Spouse Education Survey, the RAND Corporation (published in 2004) reported that milspouse students place a high emphasis on education and training. A report by the National Military Family Association (published in 2007) demonstrated that the two most common obstacles for milspouse students are service member deployments and frequent relocations. While these studies are informative and start to address some of the issues milspouse students face, I want to delve in deeper.
I recently teamed up with a group of social science and higher education researchers at North Carolina State University to develop an online survey for current military spouse students. The goal of this survey is to investigate three questions:
- What careers and majors are military spouses pursuing and/or desire, and why?
- What types of institutions and learning environments do military spouse students use and/or find most useful?
- What resources do military spouse students use and/or desire to help support their education?
While these questions seem simple, I think addressing them will be a good way to start a dialogue with the military, as well as colleges and universities, on the best ways to assist milspouse students.
So let’s get down to business. What I’m asking is that, if you are a military spouse currently enrolled in school, you consider taking my survey (survey can be accessed at bit.ly/1sRNkeT). It’s completely voluntary and you can choose to not answer questions if you so desire. No identifiable information will be collected or reported and the survey will take approximately 20 to 30 minutes to complete. The survey is based on the Army (because that is what I know), but it is applicable to all service branches. If you are a Marine, Navy, Air Force, or Coast Guard spouse and feel that an answer doesn’t apply to your branch, feel free to select “other” and include the specific program/resource/etc. This of course applies to Army spouses, as well.
This survey has been approved through the North Carolina State University Institutional Review Board (IRB). The IRB is an ethics committee that oversees research performed on human subjects to ensure that study participants are treated fairly and that their privacy is protected. If you have specific questions or concerns about the survey, feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I truly hope that the findings from this survey can advance the discussion on ways to improve how military spouse students obtain their education and training. I greatly appreciate your help, participation and feedback.
Current military spouse students who want to participate in this survey, please click on this link.
Dr. Laura Ott is an educator, biomedical and education researcher, and Army wife currently stationed at Fort Bragg. She holds a B.S. in microbiology from Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and a PhD in immunology from NC State University. For the past three years, she has been a Teaching Associate in the Biotechnology Program, teaching molecular biology courses and conducting educational research. She is extremely passionate about assisting military spouses in obtaining their educational and career goals. In her free time, she enjoys pretending to be a celebrity chef in her kitchen and spending time with her husband, daughter, and two pups.