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Dixie close to becoming state college

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St. George students soon may attend Dixie State College, and the Utah Board of Regents will have its say in college upgrades under passage of a compromise bill dispersing weeks of tension in higher education circles.

All sides claimed victory in a reworked HB32, from the sunbelt community that rallied to collect a half-million dollars for baccalaureate degrees at Dixie College to Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, and sponsoring Rep. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, who reached a compromise on the issue.HB32 had sought to implement by 2002 six baccalaureate degrees at Dixie, which didn't like the arrangement of having Southern Utah University provide the college's four-year programs.

The measure, dubbed the most important legislation facing higher education, was watered down to give Dixie three baccalaureate degrees by fall 2000, with regents determining who will deliver them.

Regents also are directed to study options including contracting for programs with research universities, such as the University of Utah, and whether Dixie itself could offer a limited number of baccalaureate degrees.

U. President Bernie Machen says his institution's resources are available if needed.

"Frankly, for people in Washington County it is a good deal. The U. really gets nothing. I see it as a public service," Machen said. "I don't see it as a power grab."

Regents must determine Dixie program upgrades by Nov. 15. Unless they object, the school will be renamed.

In the bill's wake, SUU will lay off three university center instructors, spokesman Neal Cox said.

While the Dixie bill grabbed the legislative spotlight, higher education officials also focused on budgetary matters.

Officials claimed victory when lawmakers gave college presidents flexibility in spending $1 million to meet their institutions' needs, said Fred Hunsaker, associate commissioner for finance and facilities.

Higher education received more than $3 million to fund enrollment growth and a last-minute $1 million to maintain libraries.

But a 2.5 percent salary increase will be gobbled up in insurance increases, Hunsaker said. Higher education also must share $7.5 million with other agencies to correct an estimated $12 million in Y2K computer troubleshooting. And it stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars annually under the new Growth Act, which directs colleges to give half the money saved in energy efficiency to fund the act's programs.