Higher education officials on Friday discussed the way tuition is figured, which could result in cuts or hikes, and the need for new college campuses to stave off what they call an imminent crisis.

College presidents and the Utah State Board of Regents tossed the ideas around with the Legislature's Education Interim Committee in a discussion group held at Southern Utah University.Last year, legislators directed the regents to study funding and accountability issues and report back with their recommendations.

The concepts were generated in master planning task forces established by regents but could be forwarded to the Joint Liaison Committee as seen fit, said regents chairman Charlie Johnson.

Student tuition is calculated differently at the state's nine colleges and universities. The Board of Regents proposes tuition changes to lawmakers, but the legislators hold the purse strings.

The task force on funding mechanisms proposes giving college presidents tuition-setting flexibility as an alternative funding source that could boost program quality and fund the cost of instruction.

Costs, demand and growth of a particular program could be taken into account in setting tuition for lower-division courses, higher-division courses and graduate school, said Johnson, also the task force chairman.

"It would dramatically change the way tuition is handled to give flexibility to college and university presidents," Johnson said.

"Any time you give flexibility, it means the potential of some tuition increases higher than average and some that will go down."

That could result in a tuition hike for medical and law students, based on the market and demand for some occupations, Johnson acknowledged. But such increases would go toward making the program better.

Conversely, tuition for some programs could decrease to attract more students, say in education. Resources in such cases would be transferred to the program to ensure quality.

Higher education officials urged lawmakers to avoid funding cuts to balance out incoming money from tuition, should the concept move forward, Johnson said.

In other news, lawmakers heard a regents' task force report that more campuses will likely be needed to house future growth in Utah.

Kerry Romesburg, president of Utah Valley State College and a member of the task force of system configuration, says he had to turn away 2,300 students last year because he had nowhere to put them.

"None of us should kid ourselves that our nine institutions can meet the needs of growth in Utah," Romesburg told colleagues and lawmakers.

"We're either going to have to cap enrollment or look at this in another way."

Yet, such talk appears contrary of Gov. Mike Leavitt's virtual Western Governors University, which aims to solve growth and building needs in cyberspace.

On Thursday, the governor urged higher education officials to move forward with another on-line institution, the Utah Electronic Community College, to develop strategies for dealing with technology and to exploit opportunities presented by the WGU.

"Critics of the (technology) delivery system are those who haven't taken it," Leavitt told lawmakers and public and higher education officials, urging them to take a course.

Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, recommended higher education officials prepare data to back such a request to compel legislative support. He noted such a concept would have to compete with the Department of Corrections' need for more prisons.

Rep. Tammy Rowan, R-Orem, suggested that Envision Utah pick up discussions on such needs.