When Sallie Mae opened a facility 25 years ago in the old Faith Shoe factory in Wilkes-Barre, the company had fewer than 40 employees.
Today, the student loan giant employs about 800 at its facility in Hanover Industrial Estates, making it one of the top employers in Luzerne County.
Hundreds of those employees celebrated the company's 25th anniversary in Luzerne County at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon at the Hanover Twp. facility.
While it was a happy day for the cheering employees and the company's top executives, Sallie Mae Chief Executive Officer Albert Lord was quick to add what he called a "sobering pause" about the downsizing that has occurred in recent years as a result of legislative changes.
When Congress passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act and President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2010, it overhauled the student loan program. The law included a provision for the government to begin directly lending to students, bypassing institutions like Sallie Mae that have traditionally provided the loans. Mr. Obama has said that such institutions soaked up billions of dollars in subsidies.
After the legislation passed, Sallie Mae restructured. Its workforce has been reduced from about 1,000 two years ago to 800 today, company officials said. Companywide, Sallie Mae now employs about 6,500 employees after eliminating about 2,600 jobs and closing servicing centers in Texas, Florida, New York, Massachusetts and Washington two years ago.
A document imaging system - one of the biggest ever installed by a private company for electronic storage of paper documents - was installed in all of those servicing centers in 1993. Today, the Hanover Twp. facility is the last one of those facilities that remains, Mr. Lord said.
"We more than survived. We thrived through very tough times and good times and what are now are better times and getting better all the time," Mr. Lord said.
Five employees were recognized Wednesday for 25 years of service: Lorraine Heydt, Lynn Girman, Stacey Josey, Jackie Winter and Debra Walsh.
During their 25 years with Sallie Mae, Ms. Heydt and Ms. Walsh said the one constant through all the years has been change.
As a result of the legislative changes, Ms. Walsh talked about how the company no longer originates loans since the Federal Family Education Loan Program was eliminated. The company offers private student loans, she said.
Sallie Mae also offers services such as college savings programs, scholarship search tools, education loans, tuition insurance and online banking.
June 1990: Sallie Mae moves to a new facility in the Hanover Industrial Estates in Hanover Twp.
October 1992: Former Governor Robert Casey participates in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for an expanded facility in Hanover Twp.
September 1997: Sallie Mae begins privatizing its operations following Congressional and shareholder approval to end its government-sponsored enterprise status.
March 2010: Congress passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, which eliminated the Federal Family Education Loan program. That led to restructuring at Sallie Mae, which ultimately reduced its companywide workforce by 2,600 employees and closed service centers in Texas, Florida, New York, Massachusetts and Washington.
Today: Sallie Mae employs about 800 in Hanover Twp. and 6,500 companywide.