We're 50 — and proud of it!

Over the last half-century we’ve grown into a highly regarded guarantor, servicer and philanthropy thanks to the dedication and hard work of employees like you. We can all be proud of the work we do!

Scroll down for highlights from our first 50 years.

Scroll down
A Peace Sign

The story of Great Lakes begins in the mid-1960s.

President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society was breaking new ground in the fight to end poverty and racial injustice. His mission to give people "a hand up, not a hand-out" included higher education reform to make college affordable for everyone.


1965 The Higher Education Act is signed into law

On November 8, 1965, President Johnson signs the Higher Education Act (HEA) which provides grants, loans and work study jobs to make college available to all. The HEA establishes the Guaranteed Student Loan (GSL) program. Today, two out of three college students receive some form of financial aid.

Source: Texas State University

1965 Wisconsin gets onboard

The GSL program, later renamed the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), is introduced in Wisconsin.

1966 HEAB is established

The state of Wisconsin needs a GSL program administrator, so the Higher Educational Aids Board (HEAB) is established.

1967 The origin of Great Lakes

HEAB establishes the Wisconsin Higher Education Corporation (WHEC) as Wisconsin's guarantor. This nonprofit corporation grows from its small office space on Wilson Street in Madison into the Great Lakes we know today.

1967 - Photo of the first Grea Lakes location on Wilson Street, Madison Wilson Street office in Madison
Great Lakes President and CEO - Dick George

"For 50 years we've stayed true to our mission to improve lives through higher education. We do this through our work helping students repay their student loans so they can go on to lead better lives. And through our philanthropy which helps at-risk students get to and through college so they too can reach their full potential.
Thank you for all you do in support of this important work."
President & CEO, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates

From a small office with fewer than 20 employees to the industry leader we are today—look how far we've come in 50 years! Check out these stats!

Social media borrower
conversations in 2016

mailed in 2016

Employees who have
been with Great Lakes
30 years or more

at Great Lakes

Incoming borrower
phone calls in 2016


1970 47-year career begins

Margo Reese, Great Lakes' longest-serving employee, is hired. After starting her career as Key Punch Operator in Madison, she's seen it all. Today, Margo continues her Great Lakes career working as a Shared Services Coordinator.

Photo of Margo Reese at the start of her career Current photo of Margo Reese

Margo reflects
on 47 years at
Great Lakes.

Read Margo's Story


1980 When HEAB met Sallie

A repayment servicing agreement with Sallie Mae leads to a huge boost in servicing volume for HEAB. Sallie Mae becomes one of Great Lakes' most important customers.

1984 WHEC goes solo

After 17 years of working together, HEAB transfers all Guaranteed Student Loan operations to WHEC to begin operation as an independent, self-administered nonprofit corporation.

1984Technology fuels business

WHEC launches new electronic origination service in response to demand for faster guarantee and origination processing.

1985 - The Great Lakes office at 2401 2401 International Lane office opens in Madison

1988 We become Great Lakes

WHEC changes its name to Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation in recognition of its expansion into markets beyond Wisconsin. Great Lakes grows steadily over the next thirty years.

Employee growth over the years: 1967 to present

Current Employee Count:


1994 Direct lending pilot expanded

President Clinton announces a huge expansion of the Federal Direct Loan Program pilot established in 1992.

1994Puerto Rico conversion

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) appoints Great Lakes as the new guarantor of Puerto Rico.

1994Default rehabilitation rolls out

In response to the 1992 HEA Reauthorization, Great Lakes is among the first to launch a default rehabilitation program to help borrowers avoid the negative long-term consequences of default.

1995 Alternative loan servicing begins

Great Lakes begins providing origination and repayment servicing to KeyBank in support of KeyBank Alternative Loans. This successful entrance into private loan servicing promises a reliable revenue stream regardless of the ultimate fate of FFELP.

1996 Ohio conversion

ED appoints Great Lakes as the new designated guarantor of Ohio.

1997 NorthStar affiliation

NorthStar Guarantee becomes an affiliate. Great Lakes assumes responsibility for NorthStar's guaranteed loan portfolio and becomes the designated guarantor for Minnesota.

1996 - Executives 'breaking' first ground on the future site of the 2501 building 2501 International Lane in Madison ground breaking
1997 - The Great Lakes office in Eagan St. Paul Center opens – relocates to Eagan in 2013
1997 - The Great Lakes office in Eau Claire Eau Claire center opens

1997 Great Lakes reorganizes

Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates is established as the parent corporation for all Great Lakes affiliates.

1999 ScholarNet® launches

Created by Great Lakes, ScholarNet® allows schools to exchange FFELP and private loan information over the Internet without having to install and support new software or equipment.

What year did they start?

Great Lakes is lucky to have the long-term guidance of so many experienced leaders—a benefit which has helped fuel our growth and success.

Guess the year these long-serving officers joined Great Lakes or one of our affiliates, then scroll over their photo for the answer.

Jacki Fairbairn



VP - Policy & Regulation Compliance

Jill Leitl



Chief Operating Officer

Brett Lindquist



Chief Marketing & Sales Officer

Dick George



President & Chief Executive Officer

Tammy Kielhofer



Chief Servicing Officer

Marc Storch



Chief Borrower Services Officer

Amy Kerwin



VP - Community Investments

Taige Thornton



President & CEO – NorthStar

Beth Erickson



VP - Repayment Solutions

Brian Kobishop



Chief Security Officer

Hope Merry



Chief Financial Officer

Maureen Harrill



Chief Human Resources Officer

Mary Boisen



Senior VP - Marketing & Sales

Jeff Crosby



President & CEO - GLELSI

Paula Carlson



Chief Loan Program Services Officer

Rick Giese



Chief Systems Development Officer


2000 First-ever Voluntary Flexible Agreement signed

Great Lakes is the first guarantor to enter into a Voluntary Flexible Agreement (VFA) with ED. As one of four to win this leading edge contract, we adopt a performance-based model in which our compensation is based on how many borrowers we help avoid default.

2000 - The Great Lakes office in Boscobel Boscobel center opens

2001 Montana added

Montana selects Great Lakes as its guaranty service provider.

2002 - Screenshot of the first mygreatleaks.com website mygreatlakes.com launches

2004 Community Investments established

This new division, created to oversee corporate philanthropy, is dedicated to helping students get to and through college.

2008 - The Great Lakes office in Rocky Hill Rocky Hill comes aboard
2009 - The Great Lakes office in Aberdeen Aberdeen comes aboard

2009 EAC affiliation

Education Assistance Corporation in Aberdeen joins Great Lakes.

2009 ED servicing contract awarded

Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc. competes for and wins one of four federal servicing contracts. This award confirms our position as an industry leader.

Great Lakes logo evolution

1960, First Great Lakes Logo
1980, Second revision of the Great Lakes logo
Today, Current Great Lakes logo


2010 The end of FFELP

The Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872) passes, signifying that all federal Stafford, PLUS, and consolidation loans will be processed through the Federal Direct Loan Program.

2011 - Great Lakes mobile app launches

2012 ICSAC transfer

The loan portfolio of Iowa College Student Aid Commission (ICSAC) is transferred to Great Lakes.

2012 NES affiliation

NorthStar Education Services partners as an affiliate of Great Lakes.

2013 Great Lakes Gives introduced

Our employee giving program offers a variety of opportunities for employees to get involved and make a big impact on education in our communities.

Great Lakes Gives logo
2014 - The Great Lakes office in Steven's Point Stevens Point center opens

2014 Arkansas conversion

After converting the portfolio of Student Loan Guarantee Foundation of Arkansas, Great Lakes begins serving as the designated guarantor for Arkansas.

2014 Missouri conversion

Great Lakes begins providing support for the outstanding FFELP Loans guaranteed by Missouri Department of Higher Education.

2014 - The Great Lakes office in Plano Plano Center opens

2016 GreatNet partnership formed

To present the strongest possible solution for the new servicing model, Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc. and Nelnet Loan Servicing, LLC form a partnership, operating as GreatNet Solutions, LLC (GreatNet), for the purpose of bidding on the new FSA servicing contract.

2016 North Dakota conversion

After converting the portfolio of Student Loans of North Dakota, Great Lakes begins serving as the designated guarantor for North Dakota.

2017 USA Funds becomes part of Great Lakes

The nation's largest guarantor, United Student Aid Funds, and its subsidiary, Northwest Education Loan Association, join Great Lakes. The affiliations add an office in Indianapolis.

2017 - The Great Lakes office in Indianapolis Indianapolis comes aboard

2017 Great Lakes turns 50!

Our 50th Anniversary logo
Great Lakes President and CEO - Jeff Crosby

"Thank you for your commitment, effort, innovative ideas, integrity, and willingness to find better ways for Great Lakes to succeed. Your unique and individual contributions are key to our continued success as an organization."
President & CEO, Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc.