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.
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.
"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
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.
on 47 years at
"After high school, I took a course on 'Business Machines' at Madison Area Technical College which included key punch, manual typewriters and mimeograph. After graduating in June of 1970, I started going on job interviews looking for a position as a key puncher. Time after time, I was told that I was qualified, but they were looking for someone with experience. The ever popular 'catch 22' – we can't hire you because you don't have experience, but you can't get experience because we won't hire you. After almost six months of job hunting, I applied for a job with Wisconsin Higher Education Corporation [now known as Great Lakes]. Finally someone was willing to take a chance and hire me without office experience. I'm thinking that almost 47 years later, they are happy that they took that chance.
Besides our consistent growth over the years, I'm also surprised by all the new equipment and technology. It's gone from huge processing units and tape drives to the small hand-held devices and thumb drives used today. From conference rooms to conference calls, meeting rooms to webcasts – we have always been supplied with the most up-to-date equipment and processes available. It says a lot about Great Lakes as a place to work and how committed they are to staying current and being at the front of the student loan business. I think this is a big reason that there are so many employees that have been here for more than 10, 20 and even 30 years."
– Margo Reese
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.
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.
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.
VP - Policy & Regulation Compliance
Chief Operating Officer
Chief Marketing & Sales Officer
President & Chief Executive Officer
Chief Servicing Officer
Chief Borrower Services Officer
VP - Community Investments
President & CEO – NorthStar
VP - Repayment Solutions
Chief Security Officer
Chief Financial Officer
Chief Human Resources Officer
Senior VP - Marketing & Sales
President & CEO - GLELSI
Chief Loan Program Services Officer
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.
2001 Montana added
Montana selects Great Lakes as its guaranty service provider.
2004 Community Investments established
This new division, created to oversee corporate philanthropy, is dedicated to helping students get to and through college.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 Great Lakes turns 50!
"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.