- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2007

Shares of Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student-loan provider, jumped 15 percent yesterday following a newspaper report that it is in buyout talks with a private equity firm for more than $20 billion.

The New York Times reported that Blackstone Equity Group is a potential bidder to take Sallie Mae private.

Reston-based Sallie Mae, formally known as SLM Corp., was created by Congress in 1972 as a company to which private lenders could sell their student loans. But it was privatized in the 1990s and became a fully independent, publicly traded company in 2004.

Sallie Mae declined to comment on the report.

“It’s our long-standing policy not to comment on market rumors and speculation,” spokesman Tom Joyce said.

Blackstone spokesman John Ford also declined to comment.

Sallie Mae shares rose by $6.01, or 15 percent, to $46.76 a share, in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The trading pushed Sallie Mae’s market capitalization from $16.7 billion to $19.2 billion.

The Times report, citing unnamed sources, said the acquisition could be for more than $20 billion. The Times reported that the negotiations appear to be at a late stage, but that numerous hurdles remain.

While it is now independent, Sallie Mae faces considerable congressional scrutiny because many student loans are federally subsidized.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, California Democrat, said yesterday that a buyout by a private firm raises concerns about a lack of public disclosure of Sallie Mae’s actions, since they would no longer be subject to regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“It is abundantly clear that the lack of public disclosure required by both student lenders and schools has undermined the credibility of the student-loan industry,” Mr. Miller said. “The American people must be able to hold lenders and schools accountable to ensure that federal student aid dollars are being properly used.”

On Wednesday, Sallie Mae settled an investigation started by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo by promising to alter its business practices and pay $2 million into a fund to educate students and parents about the financial aid industry.

Mr. Cuomo’s office has been investigating kickbacks by loan providers to school officials who steer students toward particular lenders.

Mr. Miller’s committee and the Senate education committee are also investigating the student-loan industry.

Sallie Mae, with 11,000 employees and $1.2 billion in annual profits, is by far the largest lender in the $85 billion student-loan industry.

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