- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 7, 2009

NEW YORK | Sallie Mae gave some hope to the unemployed Monday, announcing that it will bring 2,000 jobs to the U.S. within the next 18 months as it shifts call center and other operations from overseas.

The move marks somewhat of a turnaround for the nation's largest private student lender, which two years ago was faced with slashing costs amid collapsing capital markets and legislative marketing cuts.

“We were at the point where we couldn't make a student loan at a profit,” Chief Executive Albert L. Lord said during a conference call.

Sallie Mae quickly scuttled jobs overseas as part of a plan to save about $300 million over a 12-month period.

“The company had to re-engineer itself. It had to cut jobs, and it had to move jobs. At least that's how we felt at the time,” Mr. Lord explained.

Once the cost cuts were made, Sallie Mae started to look into returning those positions to the United States.

The impending influx of jobs is welcome news to the country's unemployed, whose numbers have climbed past 13 million. The jobless rate - which hit 8.5 percent last month - is expected to reach 10 percent by year's end.

Sallie Mae plans to return its 2,000 jobs to the United States by October 2010, with 600 of those positions on tap for its Wilkes-Barre, Pa., facility.

The company also runs facilities in locations such as Lynn Haven, Fla.; Fishers, Ind.; Killeen, Texas; and Newark, Del.

And if the turnout for jobs at its Delaware operations center is any indication, Sallie Mae should brace for a large number of applicants for the new crop of positions. A job fair hosted by the Reston-based company in December for the Delaware site saw more than 800 attendees and at least 2,300 more apply online. The lender said at the time that it planned to hire 1,100 workers for the facility by the end of 2011.

Aside from call-center positions, Sallie Mae will be looking for employees to fill information technology and operations support roles.

While the jobs shift will cost approximately $35 million a year, Mr. Lord dismissed pundits that criticized the expense, saying the move will “enhance our franchise for many years to come.”

Sallie Mae, also known as SLM Corp., has more than 8,000 U.S. employees. It manages $180 billion in education loans and serves 10 million student and parent customers.

Shares of SLM rose 21 cents, or 3.93 percent, to $5.56 on Monday.

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