Student loan company Sallie Mae flew more than 100 sales team employees to Hawaii earlier this year to celebrate $5 billion in student loans, as the student debt crisis has reached $1.6 trillion.
In August, Sallie Mae brought the employees to Maui’s luxury Fairmont resort on Wailea beach as it celebrated a record-high year in sales, NBC News reports.
The $5 billion in student loans went to 374,000 borrowers, totaling nearly $13,400 per person.
“We said, ‘Hey, look, Maui is a pretty nice spot.’ And so if you wanted to stay a few days or want to bring your family, that’s up to you,” Sallie Mae CEO Ray Quinlan told NBC News.
He added that the venture was not an “incentive trip” but instead a “sales get-together for all of our salespeople.” The company has taken similar retreats since it was founded in the 1970s, NBC News reports.
When it was founded, Sallie Mae offered federal education loans, but it has since split into two parts, with Sallie Mae Bank servicing private loans. These private loans often give money to people who probably can’t pay it back — an issue that mostly affects minority students and students of color.
Social media users blasted the news, with one person tweeting that Sallie Mae’s borrowers were being “exploited by the terms of student loans.”
Sallie Mae is celebrating $5 BILLION dollars in sales, not million, BILLION. Those arent sales, those are people trying to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" to better their lives, and being exploited by the terms of student loans— Bani Hanma (@TotoneYaguacate) October 18, 2019
Another knocked the company, tweeting, “this bitch, sallie mae, needs to get slapped.”
this bitch, sallie mae, needs to get slapped https://t.co/7UVxx6HHCY— ziwe (@ziwe) October 18, 2019
Student loan debt and the cost of college have continued to climb, leading to lawmakers and advocates pushing for solutions to the crisis.
2020 Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Warren11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Senate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' UN secretary-general blasts space tourism MORE (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs Manchin fires warning shot on plan to expand Medicare Democrats steamroll toward showdown on House floor MORE (I-Vt.), have pushed for proposals that would allow for tuition-free college.
In a recent poll, a majority of voters reported that they support the idea of free state college and canceling student debt.
In a statement to The Hill, a Sallie Mae spokeswoman said the company is "proud of the work we do to help families responsibly pay for college and stand by our record."
"College should be more affordable, and student loan providers have an obligation to lend responsibly. That's why we assess every applicant's financial situation, and if they haven't demonstrated their ability to handle the debt, we say no," the spokeswoman said. "There is a real conversation to be had about college affordability and student lending, but it cannot take place without the facts."