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NECC Selected to Participate in National Loan Counseling Experiment

Submitted by on March 7, 2017 – 5:35 pm

Alexis Fishbone, NECC director of financial aid

Only a quarter of Northern Essex Community College students take out student loans but the college wants to be sure that those students who do are making educated decisions about the debt they are taking on.

Northern Essex, along with 50 other colleges across the nation, has applied to and been selected to participate in an experimental loan counseling program conducted by the Department of Education that will begin this fall.  The program will test the effectiveness of adding counseling sessions and a host of new tools in helping students manage their debt.

When the program is launched, there were will be two randomly selected student control groups at Northern Essex.  The first group will receive the currently required entrance counseling session when applying for their first federal loan.  The second group will be required to complete an additional counseling session each subsequent year they request federal loans using a new tool that will allow for in person, hybrid and online sessions.

The two groups will be carefully tracked over several years and the Department of Education and the college will measure the data to determine what factors are helping students to be successful.  “We will look at graduation rates, repayment rates, and default rates,” said Alexis Fishbone, NECC’s director of financial aid.  “We’re hoping what we learn will help our students become more educated consumers.  If we can give them the tools to take on fewer or more manageable loans, this experiment will be successful.”  The data will also help the Department of Education determine what’s most successful nationally and make policy decisions based on what they learn.

Northern Essex’s default rate has been decreasing in recent years from a high of 19.5* in 2010 to 13.6* in 2013, and the college is hopeful that the additional counseling will bring the rates down even further.

Nearly three-quarters of the schools selected for the pilot program are public two-year institutions, while 14 are public four-year colleges. New York University is the only private nonprofit school and Monroe College is the only for-profit institution.

To learn more about financial aid at Northern Essex, contact Fishbone at

With campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, Northern Essex Community College offers over 70 associate degree and certificate programs as well as hundreds of noncredit courses designed for personal enrichment and career growth.  Close to 6,000 students are enrolled in credit associate degree and certificate programs on the Haverhill and Lawrence campuses; and another 6,700 take noncredit workforce development and community education classes on campus, and at businesses and community sites across the Merrimack Valley.  Northern Essex is the only state college located in the lower Merrimack Valley Region of Massachusetts. For more information, visit the website at