About the Founder

Mary Lyn Hammer, Founder and Executive Director

Mentoring and Student Loan Default Management Roots

Mary Lyn Hammer’s mentoring experiences go back to when she attended high school and volunteered at the Kalispell, Montana probation office, where she was assigned to mentor children on probation. Her job was to take these children hiking, biking, boating, tubing, water skiing, snow skiing, ice skating—wholesome activities that showed a positive option to life on the streets. The goal was to change a child’s behaviors to safe and healthy habits and activities. Over 35 years later, some of these kids still stay in touch with Ms. Hammer.

Her career in higher education began in January 1988, when Ms. Hammer was hired by a forward-thinking private career school in Arizona to be the first known full-time Default Manager focusing on the prevention of student loan defaults. This school wisely anticipated the long-range importance of student loan default prevention.

“When reflecting on my life, I understand how we can help kids, suffering in abusive or poverty-stricken environments, to transcend the most extreme circumstances with support and encouragement from mentors.” —Mary Lyn Hammer

From her experience in the banking sector, Ms. Hammer recognized the primary goal of servicing was to keep borrowers current and prevent life-changing events like defaults, foreclosures and repossessions. She was shocked to find that fraud and abuse were rampant in the student loan industry. She had been an “at-risk student” who needed an education and mentoring to pursue her destiny. Early on, she used her ability to understand both the lenders’ and the students’ perspectives, and quickly recognized that a great number of students simply lacked financial literacy and the skills to understand the complicated student loan system. Ms. Hammer believed that the only way to ensure proper loan servicing was to intervene and act as a liaison between borrowers and servicers and mentor the student borrowers on how to repay student loans. This “hands on” approach to default prevention was revolutionary. Many techniques she developed have become essential, proven-successful legal and regulatory strategies and methods to prevent student loan defaults while others have remained proprietary—an enduring approach that remains effective for schools’ and students’ success today.

Mary Lyn Hammer c 1988

Entrepreneurial Advocate and Businesswoman

After numerous requests from schools needing assistance, Ms. Hammer gathered her savings and borrowed an additional $5,000 from a friend to courageously start her first business,  Hands On Default Management, in December of 1989. She epitomized the American entrepreneur—diligently paying her bills by cleaning houses in the morning and working for a caterer at night. During business hours, she devoted her passions to building a new business. Long-term, Ms. Hammer’s hard work, sacrifices, ethics, and visionary abilities have served many schools which have experienced dramatic results by implementing her programs. She and her employees have also helped many thousands of students to develop financial literacy skills.

In 2004, Ms. Hammer rebranded the company to  Champion College Services, choosing a name which better represented the evolution of the company’s objectives and goals, the portfolio of offerings, and the relationships between Champion, the client schools, and students whom it serves. Ms. Hammer’s dedication and vision have propelled Champion to continually improve its offerings and grow its professional, legislative, and regulatory strategic relationships to best serve students.

Ms. Hammer; Rayburn House Office Building

Expert Legislative and Industry Advisor

Ms. Hammer has been recognized as the country’s foremost expert in the area of student loan management. She has worked closely with congressional representatives and key staff at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on many issues during the three decades of her career. She is politically active today as an expert advisor to education officials, lawmakers, and industry liaisons in her quest to maintain student loan integrity and ensure a quality education for all students.

During her career, she has touched more than 3 million students’ lives through her companies and many millions more through her advocacy. She has participated in training sessions and workshops for numerous state, provincial, regional, national, and private associations in both the U.S. and Canada in a continued effort to share her experiences and knowledge. Her accomplishments include numerous state, regional, and national awards and recognitions over the years in both the higher education industry and in professional business arenas. Ms. Hammer has also authored several hundred articles for numerous higher education publications.

Ms. Hammer’s significant higher education and Capitol Hill experiences give her an extensive background and authority. Continuously from 1988 to the present, she has testified many times at Congressional and ED hearings, working closely with Congressional members, education committee professional staff, and key staff at the ED on many complicated issues. Please review the following for more details.

Legislative Experience Highlights

  • 1988– 1989 Ms. Hammer turned evidence over to Congress and the ED and testified numerous times regarding a student lending corruption ring in California that put several companies out of business and cost the government an estimated $750 million to rectify.
  • 1989 Her innovative Hands On Default Management Program was recognized by the ED for its remarkable results and was used as the basis for default management in what became known as “Appendix D.” Ms. Hammer was active in aiding the ED in drafting regulatory language for default management that was mandatory for high default rate schools from 1989–1996 and still exists today in rewritten regulations under “Subpart M” and “Subpart N.”
  • 1990– 1993 As part of several laws affecting higher education and cohort default rates, Ms. Hammer helped draft statutory and regulatory language for cohort default rate appeals.
  • 1993– 1995 Ms. Hammer helped draft the Cohort Default Rate Guide and several subsequent revisions.
  • 1994– 1998 Ms. Hammer worked with Congressional members on school-based loan issues and cohort default rate matters that became statutory language in the 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
  • 1999 She served as an alternate negotiator for school-based loan issues in the 1999 Negotiated Rulemaking.
  • 2000 She served as a primary negotiator for school-based loan issues in the 2000 Negotiated Rulemaking. The original default management regulations under “Appendix D” were rewritten into “Subpart M” in addition to other loan issues.
  • 2002– 2008 Ms. Hammer worked with Congressional members on school-based loan issues and cohort default rate matters. Although she was opposed to increasing the cohort default rate definition, she was instrumental in correcting what was originally written as a 4-year CDR definition to a 3-year CDR definition and helped draft the increased threshold and appeal rights for sanctions under the new definition.
  • 2009 She provided expert witness testimony for Team 1 Loan Issues and served as a primary negotiator for Loan Issues—Team 2. Default management regulations were written into “Subpart N” for the 3-year CDR definition along with conforming language for appeals in addition to other loan issues.
  • 1988– to Date Ms. Hammer has testified many times at Congressional and ED hearings and has worked closely with Congressional members, education committee professional staff, and key staff at ED on many issues during her career to insure program integrity and access to quality higher education for at-risk students.

Professional Activities, Affiliations, and Community or Philanthropic Efforts

Ms. Hammer has been elected four times to the Board of Directors for the Career College Association (also known as APSCU and CECU). She is the Charter Member and former Chairwoman for the Higher Education Allied Health Leaders (HEAL) Coalition, has served as an Advisory Board Member for the Career Education Review, a former board member for Northwest Career College Federation (NWCCF, 18 terms) and eMed. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Private Career Colleges and Schools (PCCS, 4th term) Regions XIII, IX, and X, and as Director of the Board for Champion for Success.

In 2016, Ms. Hammer joined the steering committee for Achieve60AZ, which has goals to help generate greater public and private awareness, ownership and support for the long-term steps needed in college entry and completion, adult education and training, and identifying and closing skills gaps to better prepare the Arizona workforce and state for the future.