Without Financial Aid, One Teacher Tries To Help Undocumented Seniors

Dec 30, 2017

Rachel Cohen posing with several of her graduating seniors from 2016. (Undocumented students are not pictured.)
Credit Rachel Cohen

At the start of the New Year, many high school seniors are scrambling to get college applications finished. But for many undocumented students, applying to college is just half the battle. The other half is figuring out how to pay for school, and that can be overwhelming. One Providence teacher is trying to help.

Rachel Cohen teaches English as a second language at Mount Pleasant High School in Providence. She says some of her students are undocumented, which means they don’t qualify for federal financial aid.

“And I have students that I’ve taught for the last two years, who are absolutely outstanding students," said Cohen. "And they’re having a very difficult time funding college, because while they are very low income, they don’t qualify for federal Pell grants, or federal or need-based aid, because of their immigration status.” 

So Cohen is taking matters into her own hands. Thanks to scholarships, Cohen herself graduated from college debt free. With $25,000 saved from her own college fund, and donations collected from family, friends and colleagues, Cohen created a scholarship fund for her students.

She and a group of her fellow teachers plan to distribute the money to seniors in need. Cohen said they'll award the money based on a blind essay competition

“And so as long as students turn in this clearly articulated plan about what they want to do with their degree, we’re going to select however many students we can reasonably fund,” said Cohen. “So right now that’s about 3 students because we have about $30,000 in the pot.”

Cohen has taught English language learners for three years in Providence, and plans to attend law school after the currenc academic year.