Facing a barrage of challenges from AFT President Randi Weingarten and leaders of the United States Student Association ( USSA ), Sallie Mae CEO John Remondi today agreed to meet for talks on student loan debt.
Sallie Mae’s annual shareholder meeting at the company’s Delaware headquarters took place surrounded by dozens of Delaware State Police, who ringed the building, while mounted police and squad cars escorted Weingarten and more than 100 students who marched to the meeting.
In her statement, Weingarten urged support for a proposal asking Sallie Mae’s board of directors “to annually report to shareholders on the [company’s] direct, indirect and grassroots lobbying expenditures and procedures.”
We also urge John Remondi…to meet with the delegation of students and borrowers who have traveled here today to once again ask for a meeting to discuss how Sallie Mae can help reduce the record student loan burden being carried by students and Americans and offer flexible repayment options that do not trap Americans in a lifetime of crushing debt.
The nation’s largest private student lender, Sallie Mae, administers more than $118 billion in federal loans and $31.6 billion in its private loans. The U.S. Department of Education reported that students are defaulting on their loan payments at a rate of 13.4%, the highest level in the past 10 years.
USSA Vice President Sophia Zaman told Remondi and shareholders that students support Weingarten’s disclosure proposal, co-filed by the AFL-CIO and the Nathan Cummings Foundation. “We need to know how Sallie Mae spends its money on lobbying,” she said. "And we need to meet with you, Mr. Remondi, the same way we met with U.S. Secretary of Education [Arne] Duncan.”
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative, pro-business policy and lobbying organization that opposes unions, figured prominently during the meeting. Several students asked Sallie Mae Board Chairman Anthony Terracciano, “Why is Sallie Mae a member of ALEC?”
“We participate in ALEC because we have expertise in how to help states best collect delinquent receivables,” said Terracciano, drawing snickers from some of the shareholders present.
Regina Joseph, vice president of Florida State University’s USSA chapter, told Remondi, “My parents came from Haiti. I’ve been taking out Sallie Mae loans and I can’t understand why you give huge bonuses to company executives when student loan default rates are rising across America.”
“Your question isn’t related to a shareholder proposal,” answered Terracciano.
Outside the meeting, Weingarten and more than 100 students celebrated Remondi’s promise to meet with them. To the cheering crowd, Weingarten said, “If the meeting doesn't happen in one month, we will be out there on the streets saying, ‘Shame on Sallie Mae!’”
Read more today about student loan debt here .