The board of the Student Loan Marketing Association approved a plan to hold annual elections starting in 1998, but dissident shareholders still want a vote this year.

Sallie Mae and the dissidents have been fighting for months about how to privatize the enterprise, which buys about one in three U.S. student loans.

Yearly elections would help settle the dispute by giving shareholders the right to shuffle the board annually, said Denise McGlone, chief financial officer at Sallie Mae.

But former director Albert Lord, the leader of the dissidents, said shareholders should have a chance to vote for new directors May 15, when a vote on the reorganization plan is scheduled.

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