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Utah college students may get a break on tuition.

For the past decade, tuition at the state's nine college and universities has risen faster than inflation. But a proposal now before the State Board of Regents would limit the year-to-year changes in tuition increases.The regents will consider the proposal on July 27.

It will be the regents' second try at establishing a tuition policy. The first proposal, presented to the regents last fall, was scrapped after it was opposed by former Weber State College President Stephen Nadauld.

The drive to formulate a tuition policy was born in negotiations with students angry over the 1989-90 tuition hike. Students complained that they couldn't predict tuition increases from year to year. One student leader charged that the tuition numbers were "intangible and came out of the blue."

The new plan would tie tuition at each institution to a target level based on a percentage of the full cost of instruction and the tuition of comparable state colleges and universities.

But because of a wide difference in the tuition being paid at the Utah schools and elsewhere, the move to the target levels would have to be phased in, perhaps over six to eight years, said C. Gail Norris, associate commissioner of higher education for finance.

To phase in the plan, the annual increases in tuition could not be raised more than the increase in the Consumer Price Index, plus or minus one percent, depending on if the school was above or below its calculated target level, Norris said.

It would work like this:

If the CPI was 5 percent, then the tuition at the four-year schools would increase 6 percent because their tuition is generally below the calculated target levels.

At the community colleges, the tuition increases would be 4 percent because their tuition is generally above calculated target levels.

There would be two exceptions. Dixie College and Salt Lake Community College have tuition rates that are more out of line with the target levels, so their tuition would only increase 3 percent if the CPI were 5 percent.

"In a way, it would present parents and students with a reasonable consistency in tuition except in unusually bad or good economic years in the state," said Norris.

The plan has an escape clause for the unusually bad economic years. The regents could ignore the tuition policy in years when the state faces financial emergencies, such as when Gov. Norm Bangerter ordered state departments, including higher education, to cut their budgets by 6 percent.

In such years, the regents would have a free hand in raising tuition.