The Lincoln, Neb., student lender Nelnet Inc. said its first-quarter profits fell 72% from a year earlier, to $14.8 million, or 29 cents a share, because of lower net interest income and higher expenses.

Net interest income fell 21%, to $68.3 million, Nelnet said Friday. Operating expenses rose 21%, to $136.2 million, mostly because of acquisitions.

Last year Nelnet purchased a $50.2 million share of Northwest Bancorp Inc.'s student loan portfolio, and it bought the remaining stakes it did not already own in two payment companies: Facts Management Co., and infiNET Integrated Solutions Inc.

Nelnet said income from servicing fees increased slightly from a year earlier.

"We continue our focus on the key elements important to deliving sustainable, long-term value," Mike Dunlap, its chairman and co-chief executive, said in a press release.

Another student loan specialist, First Marblehead Corp. of Boston, said last week that its first-quarter profits increased 17%, to $71 million, or 75 cents a share.

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