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New changes for graduate and professional students instituted by Congress will add more pressure to students, who already face tuition increases and a faltering economy.

According to data from the Project on Student Debt, using data from the Department of Education, the average debt for a student in Arizona is $18,454, putting Arizona among the bottom five of student debt by state. While nearly half of Arizona graduates carry some debt, they remain below the national average in total debt load.

Students in New Hampshire had the highest debt load, carrying on average of $31,048 for a four-year degree, while students in Utah had the lowest at $15,550.

South Dakota contained the largest number of students who carried some debt, more than three-fourths of students in the state had debt, while Hawaii had the lowest number at 38 percent. Nationally, more than 50 percent of students graduating from a four-year degree carried debt, owing around $23,000.

Though Arizona graduates remain low in the average debt, the sate had one of the highest numbers of people in default on their federal loans in fiscal 2009, according to figures released the U.S. Department of Education.

While Arizona State University, the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University have not raised their respective tuitions this year, in the last ten years, the residential tuition for students at Arizona's state universities has nearly tripled.

University of Arizona students have faced the largest increase. In 2002, tuition was $2583 for full-time residents and $11,103 for non-residents. This year, tuition at the University of Arizona, the highest tuition among the three, $10,035 for full-time residents and $26,231 for non-residents.

Nationally, two-thirds of college seniors graduated with loans in 2010, and they carried an average of $25,250 in debt.

Tuition increases drive large increases in student loans. Recent information from both the Arizona Board of Regents and the US Department of Education note a sharp uptick in student loans in Arizona of 17 percent, one of the highest in the nation.

At the same time, the Bureau of Labor estimates that unemployment for recent college graduates climbed from 8.7% in 2009 to 9.1% in 2010, the highest annual rate on record for college graduates aged 20 to 24.

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A consequence of last year’s national debt ceiling debate, Congress and the White House passed the Budget Control Act of 2011. As part of the negotiations, the act dismantled the interest-free subsidy for student loans for graduate and professional students which when into effect on July 1, 2012.

Before the act, graduate and professional students could borrow money from two different sources under the Stafford Loan program: subsidized loans, which the federal government paid interest until six months after graduation; and un-subdized, direct finance loans that included a 3.2 percent interest rate that accumulated even as the student was working through their respective program.

Undergraduate students were spared and the amount of money available for Pell Grants increased to $17 billion. The act also eliminated direct loan payment incentives, a discount that students received for agreeing to have money pulled directly from their accounts every month.

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, this included a 0.25 interest rate reduction.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this specific part of the act Budget Act saves the federal government about $18.1 billion over the next ten years, with additional savings from the interest change adding up to $21.6 billion.

With the Pell Grant increase, this leaves about $4.6 billion for deficit reduction, a tiny percentage of the total $1.5 trillion that Congress needed to address.

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On the University of Arizona campus, researchers with the school’s optical science department are developing a new solar array that could make solar energy cheaper than its competition.

Led by Dr. Roger Angel, in a partnership with REhnu (renew) energy the team is designing a solar collector array using techniques developed by the school’s optical science department. Their goal: getting below a cost of $1 per watt, a target that makes solar energy competitive with nonrenewable energy sources like coal, oil, and gas.

There are several ways to do this, but the team has settled on a design that uses a hemisphere of concentrated photovoltaic cells that sits at the focus of light reflected by a large mirror that’s nearly ten feet across.

The system is fixed to a structure that can follow the sun throughout the day using tracking systems developed by the optical science department for telescopes, including sensors to seek the sun, a GPS system to help the tracker orient to the sun, and motors to shift and tilt the assembly as the sun crosses the sky.

Unlike rooftop systems, which remain in fixed angle to the sun, and therefore lose efficiency in the early morning and late afternoon, following the sun allows the system to collect energy from dawn to dusk.

The system uses a lightweight steel structure, assembled in open cube frames, allowing the system to hold up to eight collectors in each. The structure has the advantage of being relatively stiff, but uses less steel, fulfilling one of the overall goals of the project: shrinking costs by reducing the number of materials.

Blake Coughenour is a research associate and graduate student with the optical sciences department and helped develop the collector.

“I think it’s important because solar is a great resource that we’re not ever taking advantage of, especially in the American southwest we’re protecting ourselves from so much light that we’re wasting,” he said. “If we can find a way to efficiently use that light, we can really solve the world’s energy problems.”

Whittling down the cost and complexity of the device has been a major goal. In the lab at Steward Observatory, the team went through several prototypes for testing, learning as they went even while keeping on eye on an commonly-used efficiency goal of 30 percent. Older solar systems are about 10 percent efficient, meaning that the system captures 10 percent of the energy that's available. Tripling that number makes solar economically feasible.

The energy coming from the mirror is intense, creating several design challenges that the team had to overcome.

“This is a quarter inch piece of steel,” he said. “If we put this at the focus of our mirror, we can burn a hole through it in about five seconds.”

They solved this in two ways, first at the focus on the mirror is a glass sphere, like a fortune teller’s crystal ball. However, the glass ball is made of specialized and expensive fuzed glass.

Properties of the glass make it transparent to nearly all light wavelengths, which means it doesn’t block light from the mirror and it won’t heat up like other glasses. As Coughenour notes, it’s one of the few glasses that crack or “blow up” from the mirror’s energy.

As Coughenour said, “It’s safe, but you’re putting a lot of light into one little place.”

The glass ball also creates a lensing effect, allowing it to keep light on the cPV cells even as the structure moves. This allows the collector to keep pumping out energy under windy conditions. For a solar array sitting in the desert, this is a nice advantage.

They also added a reflective coating to the glass mount, allowing the metal to survive moments when the system is “off sun” and the ray of reflected light hits it rather than the glass sphere. In earlier tests, cables and struts that were in the glare sometimes melted or smoldered.

Behind the glass, a copper bowl holds the cPV cells, allowing each one to get as much light as possible through small funnels that are focused on each cell. This means more energy, but it also means more heat, which requires a closed-loop cooling system similar to the one in a car and a pattern of metal fins at the back they copied from high-end personal computers.

“If we didn’t have a cooing system, the cells would heat up to a couple hundred degrees and they would melt,” said Coughenour. While a cooling system adds complexity, he said, it also allows for a denser system of solar cells, dropping the cost and making it easier to pack many more arrays on a chunk of land.

High-efficiency fans cool the water in an assembly above the collector.

The team is still learning. The current system will move from its home behind Bear Down gym to the University of Arizona’s tech park in the next few months, adding the the UA’s “solar zone.” There, the team will work to make future versions more efficient, using easily to manufacture parts, while producing even more energy.

Their ultimate goal is to deploy these systems at large scale. According to the REhnu website, the corporate partner of the work, a system deployed over six acres could produce 2.5 billion kilowatts a year, enough to power 220,000 homes.

“If we show that we can build this thing, we can take it to manufacturing scale and start rolling out huge megawatt-sized plants,” said Coughenour.

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Tired of the two-party system? Don't want to see your property taxes continue to climb? Want more of a say in who populate the benches of state courtrooms? How about overriding legislative cuts to education?

If any or all of the above appeal to you, you've come to the right place, that being the November general election in Arizona.

The ballot may well have something for nearly everyone, and that's not even counting the hundreds of folks who will seek elective office from county supervisors and sheriffs to U.S. Senate and president.

Ten or more propositions could make the ballot in the fall. Seven constitutional amendments already will be offered for certain, placed there by the Legislature in action over the last two sessions.

If it gets on the ballot, the measure with the potential to cause the most impact is the "Open Government Act," being pushed by those who want to end what they call the two-party stranglehold on elective office.

Petitions will be filed on Tuesday, according to group members. If it qualifies, the measure would replace the party primary election system in Arizona with an open primary, one in which all candidates run on one ballot, and the top two vote getters move on to face one another in the general election.

California and the state of Washington have implemented the system, both through voter initiative.

Legislative-proposed constitutional amendments headed for the ballot would:

-- Modify how Superior Court and Court of Appeals selections are made.

-- Protect crime victims from having to pay for causing death or injury.

-- Give property tax breaks to businesses for newly acquired equipment.

-- Give the state sovereignty over its natural resources.

-- Limit annual distributions from the state permanent fund.

-- Authorize the Legislature to set up a process for exchanging trust land to protect military installations.

-- Limit annual growth in limited property value of locally assessed properties.

On Friday's Arizona Week, we plan to explore the measures proposed for the ballot and how voters should prepare.

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"Show me your papers."

That's the line that politicians boasted was the underlying theme to SB1070, the phrase a takeoff on the misquoted line from the bandido in Treasure of Sierra Madre -- "We don't need no stinkin' badges."

The media picked up "show me your papers" quickly and ubiquitously, even in the aftermath of Monday's Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

"Individual mandate."

That's the phrase used by both sides in the debate over the Affordable Care Act, with one side saying it is good to make everyone take responsibility for health insurance, the opponents saying such a mandate is a breach of individual freedom.

And again, the media glommed onto it and have driven it into the linguistic ground.

The problem with both phrases -- "show me your papers" and "individual mandate" -- is that they are no longer true based on the Supreme Court rulings of this week.

The court struck down the "show me your papers" part of Arizona's immigration law. Immigrants cannot be compelled to carry proof of legal residency with them, the court said. Thus, if stopped by an Arizona law-enforcement officer suspecting someone is in the country illegally, no "showing of papers" is needed.

Yet the media continued using the phrase in the hours and days after the ruling.

Same with "individual mandate," which the Supreme Court truck down. It goes to the heart of explaining the court's decision. The mandate was claimed under the Constitution's commerce clause, but the court said no. Rather, it ruled, an individual is not "mandated" to carry health insurance; he or she can pay a tax instead.

All in all some rather fine points of word usage. Nevertheless, accuracy must prevail, most especially when our striving to explain ends up oversimplifying to the point of fictionalizing.

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By Paul Ingram, Arizona Week Intern

The U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Congress could require people to buy health insurance, and penalize those who not with a tax, reaffirmed the Affordable care Act in a 5-4 decision announced this morning.

Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court supported nearly all the provisions of the 2010 bill, including the expansion of Medicaid funding to states, however it would not allow the federal government to penalize states that did not cooperate.

This decision protects provisions, including the ban on the use of preexisting conditions to refuse care and allowing adult children to remain on their parent’s health insurance until they are age 26.

President Barack Obama praised the decision, stating “Whatever the politics, today’s decision was a victory for people all over this country whose lives are more secure because of this law and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold it.”

After the announcement, the stock market was split on the decision as hospital stocks rose while the market price for insurers tumbled, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Arizona governor Jan Brewer reacted to the court’s decision with a prepared statement, “Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court flies in the face of what most Americans know to be true: ObamaCare is an overreaching and unaffordable assault on states’ rights and individual liberty.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared during a press conference that he would “act to repeal Obamacare” on his first day in office. Romney’s campaign reported it raised $375,000 in two hours after the decision was reached, according to Politico.

El Rio Community Health Center, one of the largest healthcare providers in Tucson, applauded the decision.

In a press release, executive director Kathy Bryrne wrote, “This means that in the coming years millions of newly insured people, and communities identified as medical shortage areas, will gain access to doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses and other health care professionals, and the quality cost-effective primary and preventive services health centers provide.”

Recent analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau noted that 83.7 percent of people have some kind of health insurance, however, this has declined from 85 percent in 2007, representing about 900,000 people who have lost their insurance since the economic recession started. The number of people covered by private insurance has been decreasing since 2001, according to the bureau; Medicaid has been making up the gap.

As the Arizona Republic noted, 1.2 million Arizonans (or about 19 percent) are not covered by health insurance. While Arizona was at the center of the legal challenge, the state accepted a federal grant to organize and fund the state’s health insurance exchange, the court’s decision will require the state to continue the program or hand it over to the federal government.

The program includes $16.4 million for software to track the exchange, a $1 million planning grant—used to borrow staffers from other state agencies to develop the exchange—and $29.8 million as an “establishment” grant.

While much of the bill’s provisions have yet to be engaged, some of its provision have already affected Arizona residents.

According to figures from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and reported by the Arizona Republic, the Affordable Care Act allowed nearly 60,000 adult children under 26 to remained insured.

Similarly, in 2011, more than 637,000 received free preventive care like mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as annual wellness visits. Finally, nearly 2,000 received healthcare despite preexisting conditions.

Friday at 8:30 p.m., Arizona Week will cover this issue in-depth with analysis by the Goldwater Institute, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a health care economist, the head of Tucson medical Center and a physician who operates a care improvement program under the Affordable Care Act.

About AZ Week Notebook

News and commentary from Arizona Week producer/host Michael Chihak and interns Melanie Huonker and Lucy Valencia.