"Education is Worth It": Students Take On Sallie Mae CEO Albert Lord at Shareholder Meeting

Sophia Zaman is a graduating senior from UMass – Amherst and a Student Labor Action Project member. She'll be part of a group going to student lender Sallie Mae's shareholder meeting this week to confront CEO Albert Lord.

As college students around the country walk proudly across their graduation stages only to be met by daunting levels of student loan debt, one man remains disappointingly out of touch.

Albert Lord, CEO of Sallie Mae, the student loan behemoth, has recently been quoted denying claims of a student loan debt crisis.

At a time when an entire generation is going bankrupt, this notion not only seems dishonest, but also irresponsible. Especially considering that since 1999, student loan debt has grown by 511%. Indeed, student loan debt has reached an unprecedented level. On average, students are graduating with about $25,000 in loans. Nationally, student loan debt has reached $1,000,000,000,000, outpacing national credit card debt, with an additional $1 million being added every six minutes. Sallie Mae currently holds over $150 billion of the $1 trillion, making them the largest private lender profiting off of student debt.

And while students drown in their debt, Lord reaps the benefits. According to a Center for American Progress report, between 1999 and 2004, the Sallie Mae CEO made over $225 million in the student loan debt business. Further, in 2008 alone, “as profits declined, Lord received $4.7 million in total compensation.”

As if his flagrant earnings weren’t enough, a portion of that compensation went toward building his private, 335-acre, 18-hole golf course. Why? Because he was too impatient to be a patron at a regular club. In Lord’s own words, “I hate rules.”

Indeed, Mr. CEO. Indeed.

What he should really hate is the idea of making profits off the backs of students, middle-class, low-income and otherwise, who struggle every day to meet their monthly payments. This kind of extravagance comes at the cost of students’ access to higher education.

But that kind of behavior must be permissible when you work for a corporation like Sallie Mae, where profits come before people. In the past ten years, Sallie Mae has been one of the most aggressive lobbyists, spending $25,470,000 lobbying the federal government in Washington D.C. on issues impacting student debt which allow them to continue using predatory practices.

Undoubtedly, Sallie Mae has a legacy of injecting their corporate money into elections, sponsoring legislators who serve their bottom-line. In 2005, Sallie Mae was among the few organizations that contributed the maximum $250,000 to the second inauguration of President George W. Bush, who went on to sign the “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005,” making it more difficult for students with loans to declare bankruptcy. Additionally, during the 2002 to 2012 political cycles, Sallie Mae PAC contributed $4,192,316 to federal candidates and PACs, including Speaker Boehner, who has been the largest recipient with well over $250,000 throughout his career. It’s no wonder that Sallie Mae can continue preying on students when the reality is that legislators can be bought off through campaign dollars.   

But there can be a different reality.

Sallie Mae must move beyond the debt-for-diploma model and start capping all interest rates on student loans to match the federal Stafford loan (3.4%). Furthermore, Sallie Mae must forgive student debt since it’s privatization in 2004 to present. In addition, Sallie Mae must pledge to respect our democracy and keep corporate money out of our elections.

In discussing the future of Sallie Mae at U.S. Financial Services Conference, Albert Lord said, “the fact is education is worth it.”

He’s right. Education is worth it.

But until we stop asking students to finance their education with debt, those proud college graduates, and any other students with debt, will confront Albert Lord, fists held high, chanting, “Shame on Sallie Mae!”

AlterNet / By Sophia Zaman

Posted at May 21, 2012, 10:07am

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