Nova Scotia

Program offers 1 year of free university to Nova Scotians on social assistance

The Department of Community Services is changing the rules to its Career Seek Program to try to help more people on social assistance to get a post-secondary education.

Province changing rules to its Career Seek Program to include tuition, fees, books and child care

Amy MacLeod completed a two-year welding program at NSCC while she was on social assistance. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

The province is beefing up a program to help those on social assistance get a post-secondary education—a program which has so far attracted an "embarrassingly low" number of participants, according to the minister in charge of it. 

Only four people are taking advantage of the Career Seek Program this year, even though it has room for 50 participants.

'Simply wasn't working'

"This is a program that simply wasn't working," said Joanne Bernard, minister of community services.

Formerly, the program paid all the fees associated with a community college diploma but not university programs. The province is now offering to pick up one year of university tuition and fees, plus money towards other costs like child care.

Bernard said many social assistance recipients who would have liked to sign up—or did but dropped out—found it hard to cope with the cost of books, transportation and daycare. 

The new program will now pay for: 

  • One year of university tuition plus fees
  • All books
  • Up to $500 per semester for child care and transportation
  • $500 per semester for food, supplies and personal needs

Bernard is hoping that extra money makes a big difference.

"The last thing we want to do is set anybody up for failure in post-secondary education."

Student endorses change

Amy MacLeod thinks the changes will help more people. The 25-year-old mother of one learned to weld at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth. She completed the two-year program while she was on social assistance but found the extra costs hard to bear.

"If you don't have someone to watch after your little one, you can't do anything," MacLeod said.

"Child care is so expensive and many times it is more than your rent."

Child care costs often exceed rent

Miia Suokonautio, executive director of the Halifax YWCA, is also excited about the changes. Her organization runs employment programs aimed at women.

Suokonautio said the child care funding alone will have a big impact on the number of women who join the program and stick with it. 

"We know that the cost of child care alone is a huge deterrent for going to school or to work," she said.

"If you're a low-income household in Nova Scotia, even on a full subsidy, child care will be your single-largest household expense. Even more than rent."

Opposition NDP concerned

Marian Mancini, NDP MLA for Dartmouth Centre, is worried about where the money to beef up this program will come from.

"The big thing that leaps out is that there's no new money," she said. "It's coming from existing [community services] budget and to me that's a budget that's already under a lot of pressure.

"I'm curious to know how the money is going to be realloted if there's no new money coming in."