If you can't afford the first mortgage, why take out a second?

Utah State University President Stanford Cazier wasn't talking about a new USU presidential house when he made that comment in the halls of the State Capitol the other day. His statement is at the heart of the argument against upgrading Utah Valley Community College to a four-year school.The issue has been the talk of higher education this legislative session. Utah County legislators, who point out that Brigham Young University no longer meets the baccalaureate needs of the state's second most populous county, were all set to champion two bills that would have required the State Board of Regents to prepare a 1993-94 budget for UVCC as a four-year school. The legislators, however, decided this week to set politics aside - at least for now - and let the regents study the issue.

The go-slower approach is more reasonable. Utah cannot afford its current higher education system. After three years of covering higher education's legislative budget hearings, that fact is obvious to me.

Utah's nine colleges and universities have inadequate libraries that don't met accreditation standards. Professors are leaving in increasing numbers because their faculty salaries are anywhere from 19 percent to 34 percent below their peers at comparable out-of-state institutions. The schools have absorbed unexpected student enrollments for which they have received no additional state aid. Students face waiting lists for majors and classes.

The 1991 Joint Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, which ends its five weeks of hearings Wednesday, has been sympathetic to such needs. The subcommittee voted preliminarily to approve every regent money recommendation. There was one major flaw to such action. The state doesn't have pockets that deep. More than $36 million over the budget target going into its final days of deliberations, the subcommittee, and the Joint Executive Appropriations Committee next week, will have to swing the fiscal axe.

The issue as seen by Cazier - and the other college and university to whom I spoke privately - is that one more four-year school will further dilute higher education's already weak financial pot.

The fiscal note attached to SB114, one of the bills requiring the regents to prepare the UVCC four-year school budget, estimates it would cost $1.7 million the first year and be up to $4.2 million by the fifth year.

But some higher education officials privately question the credibility of those figures. UVCC relies heavily on part-time faculty, who have lower salaries and fewer benefits, than the Ph.D.s who would be needed to teach in the baccalaureate programs. The upgrading of the UVCC library and the additional laboratories for baccalaureate programs would be very costly.

And if UVCC becomes a four-year school, can football and a stadium be very far behind?

Then there is the danger of the me-too attitude. It's no secret that many folks in fast-growing St. George believe Dixie College should go to four years. Carbon County, with the isolated College of Eastern Utah, which serves a vast stretch of eastern Utah, is another area that could easily harbor four-year college ambitions.

That's why I think the regents' proposed university centers are a more reasonable approach than college expansion. The regents are fighting for its $341,700 funding this legislative session.

The university centers would offer limited, selected baccalaureate courses at the community colleges, using faculty from the four-year schools. It's not a new concept. USU, for example, offers 32 master's or bachelor's programs at two-year schools around the state.

The current problem is that the programs aren't visible to many students. The university centers would concentrate the baccalaureate programs at specific locations at UVCC, Dixie and CEU, facilitating registration and services for the students.

The university centers are a way to met immediate needs without rushing to create another four-year school. They will give the regents time to methodically analyze needs and state resources in an environment removed from the realm of political provincialism. A community's aspirations should not be the main impetus for creating another four-year college.