Let's Check in With the People Making Millions Off Your Student Debt

Image: AP

Student loan debt: I have it, you very well may have it, and millions of other people in the United States have it, too. Collectively, our student loan debt is hovering somewhere around $1.6 trillion, and to say that Americans are struggling is an understatement: some politicians are campaigning on relieving most or all of our student loan debt, people are hosting elaborate celebrations in honor of paying off their student loan debt, and there is a horrifying game show that promises to pay off winners’ student loan debt. It’s clear we’re in crisis mode.

But Sallie Mae executives are doing great! According to a new NBC News report, back in August the reviled student loan lender invited more than 100 of its employees on a five-day paid trip at a luxury Maui resort to celebrate a “record year”: $5 billion in student loans to 374,000 borrowers. Party time! 

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They stayed at the Fairmount Kea Lani, a five-star hotel with a website that boasts “spectacular ocean views” and claims it is Hawaii’s “only oceanfront all-suite and villa resort.” It’s fancy, it’s pricy, and it’s allegedly packed with Le Labo products.

Here are some Yelp reviews of the joint:

Beautiful hotel, AMAZING snorkeling. I wanted a hotel in Maui that had a swim-up bar and great snorkeling. Fairmont Kea Lani has this, and more.

My party of 14 stayed in a villa and one hotel room. The villa was lovely, with a small pool on the patio and an unobstructed view of the ocean. The villas comfortably sleep 8 adults, but also include a pull-out couch and can fit cribs in the bedrooms. When we arrived, we were greeted with an assortment of fresh bread, pastries, cheese, jams, nuts, and three bottles of wine. Our fridge was always stocked with coconut water and guava juice, and the dining table centerpiece filled with fresh fruit. On New Year’s Eve, we received a bottle of champagne. Talk about attention to detail!

Rooms. Wow. Suites for days. Huge and each comes with Le Labo Rose toiletries. These are the best, mind you, and they come in huge bottles. (Thank you, Fairmont)

There are three pools. An adult “Tranquility” Pool (18+), the main pool, and an upper level pool which has a swim up bar. There are cabana’s you can rent for about $200 USD a day. They fit about four chairs in them. You will get some non-alcoholic drinks, a fruit platter, and a spot to call home in the day. If you try to use them without renting them, someone will kindly chase you away.

I got to have a day of pampering to myself at the spa and I got a very relaxing prenatal massage. The rain showers in the spa are not to be believed.

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While Sallie Mae CEO Ray Quinlan told NBC that these retreats have been commonplace since the company’s founding, it would take a massive break from reality to miss what’s so grotesque about that level of extravagance contrasted against millions of people’s economic hardships. 

While Sallie Mae celebrates record profits, Americans are living in fear of the company’s wrath. NBC’s reporting shared an anecdote in which Paige McDaniel, a mother of two, was expected to pay more than $1,500 a month in loans:

“When I told them that, you know, I couldn’t afford that, could we make some payment arrangements, they essentially said, ‘So sorry, we’ll put a lien on your house and garnish your wages if you don’t make those payments,’” McDaniel said.

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She initially borrowed $120,000 14 years ago. Thanks to those pesky variable interest rates, she now owes $304,000—and has already declared bankruptcy to protect her home.

Glad to know that Sallie Mae and co. had a great time under the Hawaiian sun, though! Keep blocking their calls without guilt.

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About the author

Ashley Reese

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.