Sallie Mae shares gained ground Thursday after Institutional Investor Services endorsed dissident shareholders in the student lender's proxy contest.

The company, formerly the Student Loan Marketing Association, has been racked by internal feuding since 1995, when the dissident group of board members and shareholders, called the Committee to Restore Value, began wrestling with management for control. The dissidents-led by Albert L. Lord, a former Sallie Mae chief operating officer and holder of 40,000 shares-were convinced the stock was undervalued. It was trading for about $35 at the time.

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