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Sheila McCosh, 31, came back to the University of Utah winter quarter after a 10-year absence during which she was a housewife and worked at a bank.

A single mom with three children to rear, McCosh hopes to be admitted to the U.'s nursing program after she finishes some general education classes, "so I can get an education that will give me a decent-paying job."In between studying for finals and readjusting to campus life, McCosh has read with interest news accounts detailing higher education's funding woes and the options that the state Board of Regents is considering to handle too many students with too few dollars.

"I don't think they ought to limit enrollment since this is a public institution," said McCosh, sitting on the Olpin Union lawn during a lunch break.

"I don't know what other alternatives they have, however. Oh, I definitely don't want them to raise my tuition," said the student, who is paying her way through school with loans.

McCosh's indecision goes to the heart of the difficult situation in which higher education finds itself today: Deciding on the best single or combination of several tough options that could drastically change the face of higher education in Utah.

Possible options, which will be debated at a special two-day meeting of the state Board of Regents in St. George this weekend, include enrollment caps, tuition surcharges or higher tuition for resident and non-resident students, tougher admission standards and fees or limits on remedial classes.

The regents' deliberations will have a sense of urgency. The 1992 Legislature appropriated only 28 percent of the money requested to finance new students next fall. But the fall '92 admissions applications to date are running significantly ahead of last year.

At the U., for example, admissions requests are 25 percent, or 1,621 students, ahead of last year. At Southern Utah University, admissions applications are 33 percent, or 1,600 students, ahead of last year. The seven other schools face similar problems.

Edward Toma, 21, a U. junior majoring in physics, isn't certain what advice he'd offer the regents to aid their deliberations. "I don't necessarily think that enrollment caps are the answer. I might advocate better admission standards. But, on the other hand, I think the state has an obligation to offer a decent education for the masses. It's a tough question. You have to decide where to cut to it off," he said.

J. Stephen Garrett, 24, a senior majoring in prelaw, thinks raising admissions standards might be the right approach - if the same standards apply to everyone. "Right now the athletes have an easy out compared to other students," he said.

Garrett believes, however, that the U. could get a real budget boost by chopping departmental and central administrative positions and by cutting down on building construction. "They don't try to cut costs here. If our educational program was as good as the campus looked, it would be fine," he said.

Cynthia Pixley, 18, a sophomore majoring in history, entered the U. last fall after earning college credit while still at Granite High School. She, too, believes that admissions standards might be too lax.

She told of high school friends who played their senior year but still were admitted to the U. "A lot of people seem to just come here to party," she said.

Mahana Fisher, 25, a senior majoring in chemistry, agrees that "a lot of students aren't here to learn." He too thinks tougher admissions standards might be a partial answer.

Even though she is on a full scholarship herself, Pixley opposes a tuition hike because it would price qualified students out of the college market."I have a friend who is having a hard time coming up here. She is really smart but she can't get any federal aid because her parents make too much money, yet they won't help her go to college," she reported.

Toma, however, believes tuition "is probably too low. This is a really inexpensive school. I have friends who go to all sorts of schools and pay outrageous prices - $20,000 a year. I pay $1,800 a year. The quality of education you get here for the price is amazing," he said.

Fisher, who transferred to the U. after graduating from Utah Valley Community College, said although he doesn't favor a tuition hike, he could probably pay a little more, even though he must work midnight to 7 a.m. to support his wife and two children. What the Orem resident said he can't handle, however, is squeezing labs held only in the evening into his work/sleep/school/study schedule.