Education

N.S. offers more support to low-income, post-secondary students

‘Childcare is so expensive and most times it is more than your rent’

(Left to right) Minister of Labour and Advanced Education, Kelly Regan, Minister of Community Services, Joanne Bernard (middle), and Pheonix Youth Programs Executive Director, Melanie Sturk announce more comprehensive funding for programs helping low-income Nova Scotians afford post-secondary education.
Minister of Labour and Advanced Education Kelly Regan, left, Minister of Community Services Joanne Bernard and Phoenix Youth Programs Executive Director Melanie Sturk at the announcement of new funding for low-income post-secondary students.   Allie Graham

Nova Scotians living on income assistance will soon be eligible for more financial support from the province to help with community college and university costs.

Labour and Advanced Education Minister Kelly Regan and Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard announced Thursday that increased funding and more comprehensive services will be offered through two existing programs, Educate to Work and Career Seek.

“Students have told us they can’t attend classes without things like child care, transportation, books or Internet access,” said Bernard.

As a mother and student, Bernard said she struggled with tuition and child care costs while attending university in the 1990s.

“I remember how difficult it was. Food insecurity was huge in my home,” she said. “If it weren’t for the generous scholarship programs at Mount Saint Vincent, my career in the 1990s would have been almost impossible.”

Both ministers say the funding increase will bridge the gap between the amounts available through income assistance and student assistance, helping eligible students to stay in school and graduate.

Career Seek allows people to remain on income assistance while attending university. It will now provide students with tuition for one year and cover books and other fees, including up to $60 per month for Internet service. It will also cover the costs of child care and up to $500 per semester for transportation costs.

An additional allowance of $500 per semester will be provided for on-campus activities, meals on campus and for library and bookstore services.

Students who are already in Career Seek are now eligible for the year of free tuition, even if they are in the second or third year of their academic program.

The Educate to Work program gives people the opportunity to remain on income assistance while receiving financial support for tuition, child care, transportation and books and school supplies.

Enhancements to the program include funding for half of an approved Nova Scotia Community College program’s tuition, full funding for books and student fees and up to $500 per semester for child care and transportation.

The Educate to Work program is now connected to Phoenix Youth Programs, a Halifax non-profit organization dedicated to supporting young people and their families. Educate to Work will give youth who are eager to go to college the support they need.

“Now college can be a reality for Phoenix Youth who dream big,” says Melanie Sturk, Phoenix’s acting executive director.

Amy MacLeod says Educate to Work helped her and she’s glad the programs have received more funding.

25-year-old Amy MacLeod graduated from NSCC with the help of Phoenix and the province's Educate to Work program.
Amy MacLeod graduated from Nova Scotia Community College with the help of the province’s Educate to Work program.   Allie Graham

“I needed to find a career to take care to take of my daughter,” says MacLeod. “I was living on income assistance and I went through the program and found out that welding and metal fabrication was my thing … and now I work at the shipyard.”

The 25-year-old is a metal fabrication apprentice, with a certificate from the community college.

“If you don’t have someone to look after your little one, you can’t do anything … child care is so expensive and most times it is more than your rent.”

Nova Scotia women’s liaison for the Canadian Federation of Students, Charlotte Kiddell, is concerned the changes will only improve access to education for a few students.

“They are paying for the first year, but there are no measures for years two, three and four. So I’m concerned that students will start with this program and then be unable to finish their degrees,” says Kiddell.

“This program (now) helps 10 students. There are thousands of students who are struggling with student debt and struggling to afford to attend school, or who are excluded from our campuses entirely. These programs do really nothing for them.”