Single parent students have to choose between family needs and attending university

December 8, 2005

HALIFAX: Single parents face a monthly shortfall of between $180 and $415 while attending university according to study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.  The study, “Fairness in Education for Single Parents in Nova Scotia,” presents the first detailed examination of income and expenses for single parent-university students in Nova Scotia.  The author, Katherine Reed, of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre, examined what would be the income and expenses of several single parent families, if the heads of the families were university students.

Low-income single parents attending university are not eligible for support from Nova Scotia’s Employment Support and Income Assistance Program.  This study makes clear that even when single parent students are accessing every available financial support, including student loans and grants, they cannot cover their basic living expenses.  The study finds that over the eight-month school year single parent-students face a budget shortfalls ranging from $1,440 to $3,320. 

According to Reed, “Single parent-university students have to choose between meeting their family’s basic needs or going to university.” 

The main responsibility, according to Reed, “lies with the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services.  If you are one of the 10,000 single parents in Nova Scotia on social assistance you have to give up your main source of income to pursue a university degree. The social assistance policy is maintaining a barrier for single parents who should have the option of attending university and escaping poverty.”

“For the provincial government there is a cost involved, but it is money well invested,” says Reed. “Over the long term, these students will have access to better paying job opportunities, they will no longer need social assistance, and they will be better able to contribute to society in many different ways.  Not all of the single parents on social assistance are interested in going to university, so we’re probably talking about relatively few people.”

Reed notes that “the lack of supports for low income single parents attending university disproportionately effects women because 90 % of single parents in Nova Scotia are women and one in four of them receive social assistance.”

Some Nova Scotians contend that single parent-university students do not need the support of income assistance programs.  This study makes clear that supports are needed.  “I am not saying that single parents should get a free university education. They would use student loans just like other students.  But to disqualify them for social assistance adds an extra barrier that specifically affects single parents.  We need to change that.”


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact  Katherine Reed  902-364-2232 or John Jacobs at 477-1252 (cell 430-7461).  “Fairness in Education for Single Parents in Nova Scotia” is available at