About 125 students marched to Sallie Mae’s headquarters in Newark to express their frustration with high student loan debt and call for more transparency about the company’s lobbying efforts.
They carried signs, chanted and sang as they marched to Sallie Mae’s offices before the company’s annual shareholder meeting. They came demanding to meet with company leaders in hopes of airing their concerns with rocketing student loan debt. “We were sold degrees that aren’t worth what they were worth,” said Sara Fitouri, a first year law school student at the University of Denver who is $145,000 in debt. “We don’t believe students should have to pay those debts.”
The students were successful in getting company officials to agree to a sit down meeting with leaders. Sallie Mae Board Chairman Anthony Terracciano told the students they would get their meeting, but not today because company leaders were all busy in board meetings.
Chief operating officer Jack Remondi spoke at the start of the meeting about the student’s concerns about high debt levels, “Borrower’s stories are real and they are painful.” He urged recent grads facing unbearable debt to talk with loan services. He encouraged students to graduate, so the value of their education wouldn’t be wasted. He pointed prospective students to take a responsible approach to funding their college education and highlighted Sallie Mae’s Smart Option Student Loan Repayment Calculator to see what loan they can afford.
The students were also calling for better transparency of the company’s lobbying efforts and legislative activities. “Right now they’re not reporting where their lobbying money is going to, we need to talk about their accountability in the student debt crisis that is going on,” said Megan Kingston, an incoming senior at UMASS-Amherst with $38,000 in debt.
A handful of students were allowed into the meeting and spoke out in favor of a stockholder proposal to require “comprehensive disclosure related to direct, indirect and grassroots lobbying.” The company’s Board of Directors recommend against the measure stating, “The company already complies with extensive federal, state and local lobbying registration and disclosure requirements.”
The proposal was rejected by a majority of stockholders who voted.
As far as the protest, which was smaller in number than in years past, Sallie Mae spokeswoman Patricia Christel said, “We support the right of Americans express their opinion peacefully, and we’re proud of our service to help our 25 million student and parent customers successfully save, plan and pay for college.”