Consequences from Life Choices

ACPE Higher Education Opportunities


Brother, Dana Scott Liston had a terrible accident in Hawaii and this photo was taken when our mother, half sister Becky McLaughlin and mother’s husband, Gil Martin, came to see him at the hospital. Scott has been a quadriplegic since 1989.

Looking back over a life of making good and bad choices I have been blessed to have arrived at a time today where the bounty of my Alaskan life has become self-evident. Having two younger siblings who have taken distinctly different paths, it is easy to see what could have happened were it not for my independent nature and people who gave me good advice at crucial crossroads—the first being right out of high school.  

My younger brother, Scott, once told me of the time he tracked our IBEW Union, Anchorage Telephone Utility worker father down–at a local golf course–and asked him for help paying for college. Dad’s reported response: Get a Job. 

In fact, Dad could have encouraged Scott to consider entering the IBEW Apprentice Training School and he would have had a good chance of being placed there as a union member’s offspring. But that wasn’t the way our father operated.

Providing outstanding accommodations in Eagle River since 1991

Dad kicked me out of the family home mid-way through my senior year at East High School but I graduated on my own. I then got a job during that summer of 1969 cleaning up a construction worksite for Alaska Legislator, Nick Begich and taking care of  his four kids. Begich was from Minnesota and came to Alaska as a public school teacher. At this time Begich was an east Anchorage senator who had license plate No. 6 on the family’s Coppertone Chrysler station wagon I sometimes drove for errands. 


View of 23rd oil and gas lease sale for Alaska inside Sydney Laurence Auditorium in Anchorage, with map of North Slope area in Alaska on sign in background. Alaska Governor Keith Miller holds microphone, while Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Kelly stands at far right. Also from sign in photograph: “Map courtesy of Alaska Map Service, Inc. $ ,900,220,590.” Sept. 10, 1969. Photographer: Ward W. Wells. Original photograph size: 8 1/8″ x 10″.

Mentors Can Make a Difference

 Sen. Begich spent some quality time with me in the evenings while answering constituent mail. We talked about the prospect of a state rich from oil wealth as a result of the 23rd oil lease sale held earlier that year. The possibility of a settlement of Native Land Claims different from the traditional reservation dependency system seen across the continental United States was expected to lead to construction of a Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Alaska was going to be rich! We could be innovative in addressing needs of this state, and my generation would have a tremendous responsibility to assure the bounty was used and invested for immediate needs and opportunities for future generations.

 Education was a priority for use of natural resource wealth and some of us have stuck around and tried to take our responsibility seriously.



Five concrete bunkers for the Anchorage Community College had been built at the giant mudhole on Providence Drive at Lake Otis Parkway, a considerable upgrade from previous evening classes at West High School. Nick urged me to get enrolled there in the coming fall, and pointed me in the direction of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) for financial assistance, which I did. I earned my bachelor’s degree in 1974 and paid off my ACPE loans thereafter.

Today I am a commissioner of the ACPE, appointed in 2020 by Gov. Michael Dunleavy for two years, and reappointed again this year for another four years. As a young man at the end of the 1960s–facing an uncertain future–I had no idea of what higher education resources were available to me or how to access them through a State agency. Nobody taught that in the Anchorage School District. 

 ACPE now conducts extensive levels of public information outreach in cooperation with many Alaska school districts.


 I serve on the Institutional Standards Committee of ACPE. Our committee meets on an ad hoc basis to make recommendations to the Commission for final action regarding initial authorization, renewal authorization, program changes, and institutional compliance with statutes and regulations for Alaska institutions.

 Alaska higher education schools wanting students who qualify for ACPE Loans to gain training at their programs must qualify and maintain a certain caliber of Institutional integrity. At quarterly meetings ACPE commissioners review information about various schools so we may vote on whether to allow State funds to go to training students at those schools. Students who take loans to attend at these schools and training programs will be required to pay back those loans at a favorable interest rate, as I did.  

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Students are also able to borrow from ACPE to attend Outside schools.

 Commissioners participate in a deliberative process. Representatives from various other state educational organizations like the State Board of Education, the Alaska Legislature and the University of Alaska Board of Regents are also on the ACPE. In formal meetings we ask questions and vote to affirm or deny programs. My vote is 1 in 14.

 At the ACPE Winter Quarterly Meeting, held January 12, 2022, we worked through 18 agenda items in about six hours with an hour for lunch. The packet is 123 pages. We heard a presentation from University of Alaska Interim President, Pat Pitney. It is no surprise that the UA System is facing huge challenges and this institution receives a major infusion of capital from ACPE student loans.


What We Did Recently as a Commission  

Four institutions applied for Renewal of Authorization, two for Initial Authorization due to Ownership Change and two for program amendments during the recent quarterly meeting. Each of these application changes required presentation of the particulars with overview by staff and a vote of the commission to affirm or deny.

 Executive Director Sana Efird provided overview of the ongoing efforts of the organization and political considerations for the upcoming second regular 32nd Legislative Session in Juneau. We have an interest in a number of pending bills.


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It should also come as no surprise that loan originations are down. Many who might have anticipated going for higher education training during the Covid-19 pandemic may have decided to wait until health concerns subsided. Emphasis in the portfolio now seems to be on
refinancing current loans.


As number of loans declines the Commission has embarked upon cost-saving measures including reduction of personnel. The highest costs are related to personnel so outsourcing of professional services has been set on a schedule to reduce overhead and maximize funds available for student loans.



As a certified Alaska teacher beginning in 2003 I learned early-on that kids whose parents had not graduated high school were probably not going to graduate high school either. This caused me to gravitate my career to Adult Basic Education to help the estimated 25 percent of Alaska students who began in an Alaska kindergarten and do not graduate high school. The ABE program is run through the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the adults I worked with mostly needed direct instruction in Math, Language Arts, Science and Social Studies. And, once they are able to work through the material enough to anticipate graduating, I urged them to consider career ladder possibilities, utilizing an important ACPE resource: Alaska Career Information System (AKCIS)–a cost-effective online platform for comprehensive career, education, and financial aid information. It is an interactive planning tool with a personal, portable online portfolio. ACPE makes AKCIS available across Alaska at no cost to sites through a single
statewide license.

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I am gratified to be part of an ACPE organization seeking to provide education and training for Alaskans beyond high school. That choice has made a tremendous difference in my own life.

Back to circumstances of my brother, Scott. He kicked around in the carpentry trade and fathered five children. In 1989—the same year I gained my Master’s Degree in Education at University of Alaska Southeast—he hooked up with some buddies in Hawaii and had a terrible accident. I have been told by family members he and the others were using intoxicants when he grabbed up a hang-glider, launched off a mountain, and crashed.

 Scott became a bitter man, estranged from all of his kids, but I am in occasional communication with one daughter in Washington who now has had a long career as a teacher.  

Success in life is all about choices and good choices made early in life can be the most important.  


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