NEW YORK - A top official of the Student Loan Marketing Association moved last week to assuage investors' concerns that Clinton administration policies would harm Sallie Mae.

"The government's student loan program is and will be the mainstay of higher-education financing," said Albert L. Lord, chief operating officer of the federal agency. Sallie's Mae's role as purchaser and servicer of student loans "fits in with Clinton's idea of public-private partnerships," he added.

"We think the student loan program is and will be a model" for other such partnerships, Mr. Lord said at a conference sponsored by Mabon Securities Corp.

He said many of the incoming administration's ideas, including a lowering of repayments for graduates who join a national service program, are not "mutually exclusive" to the government-guaranteed student loan program.

A "real risk" to Sallie Mae, Mr. Lord said, would be changing the loan program's structure so that the government would make loans directly, rather than through private-sector lenders. Sallie Mae remains opposed to direct lending, Mr. Lord said, because government costs would rise and schools would be less efficient than banks at originating the loans.

He added that such a program would "fail in its ability to distribute credit." The direct-lending proposal "lives and dies on the practicalities of [government's] ability to do it."

Mr. Lord also projected that because of wider margins, Sallie Mae's per-share earnings for 1992 would rise 20% from 1991's $3.55, even though loan volume is up only 10%.

He predicted 15% earnings growth annually over the next five years, with volume growing 10% next year and in the low double digits from 1994 on.

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