Capitol Hill's heavy hitters are backing legislation that would add six four-year programs to Dixie College, making it Dixie State College.

Co-sponsors of the bill filed by Rep. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, include House Speaker-elect Marty Stephens and 12 other House Republican leaders."Anytime you have co-sponsors of the caliber that have signed on, that will have -- does have -- an effect," said Fred Hunsaker, higher education's associate commissioner for finance and facilities, who was not expecting a long list of leadership on the bill.

Dixie students now can access a handful of four-year degree programs through a University Center contract with Southern Utah University.

But the institutions have been quarreling over that agreement, with Dixie saying local needs are not being met.

Fueling the fire was a recent state audit showing SUU sat on some $500,000 intended for University Center programs. SUU officials have said the funds, always intended for University Center programs, accrued because tuition revenues at the center piled up more quickly than expected.

But flames have subsided. Presidents of the two institutions are solidifying a new contract for SUU's University Center offerings, and regents last month approved a policy that will forward University Center funds to host community colleges, giving Dixie more say in offerings.

Still, Hickman's HB32 stipulates that University Center funds discovered in the audit to be transferred to Dixie.

The bill also seeks to initiate three baccalaureate programs by fall 2000, subject to the success of a $1 million fund-raising effort to pay change-over costs. Since last month, the community has pledged $300,000, Hickman said.

"There's a tremendous amount of support for what we're trying to do with Dixie College based on the vast successes . . . experienced at Utah Valley State College," Hickman said.

Dixie, like UVSC, would remain a community college. But its four-year programs would bring the educational base needed to attract big businesses and boost economic growth, Hickman said.

Utah Board of Regents Chairman Charlie Johnson says there is a need for baccalaureate programs in St. George. But delivery of such programs is the question, as is procedure.

"I believe that this isn't about whether Dixie should become a four-year school or not. It's who should extend leadership on roles and missions of institutions. The statute says the Board of Regents should . . . make recommendations," Johnson said Friday.

A Regents task force is working on criteria for four-year programs. On Thursday, Regents are to scheduled to compile a progress report for lawmakers.

Johnson wishes Hickman had held off on legislation until the task force completed its job. But Hickman says the Dixie community has wanted to offer four-year programs since 1992, but made no headway with Regents.

"They complain about the fact (that) the Legislature goes around them when in fact, we're almost forced to do that," he said.

SUU and Weber State University went through lawmakers to expand their course offerings. Snow College also obtained a Richfield extension, dubbed Snow College South, last session.

"I'm all for increasing the opportunities . . . for people in the St. George area," said Rep. Brad Johnson, R-Aurora, who sponsored the Snow College South legislation. "They wouldn't have to leave to get their degrees, and people who are older and going back to college would be able to receive their education without a . . . move to another town or travel(ing) long distances."