Higher education officials are seeking the smallest increase in state funds in a decade for their 1989-90 budget. But they also want an 8 to 9 percent increase in tuition at Utah's nine colleges and universities.

In the annual budget hearings before the State Board of Regents Thursday and Friday, Utah Commissioner for Higher Education Wm. Rolfe Kerr recommended a $21.6 million increase - or 8.3 percent - for a total of $281.7 million in state appropriations to higher education. The proposed total budget for higher education is $377.2 million, an 7.99 percent increase over this year's budget."This is the smallest, most restrained budget in many, many years. . . . This recommendation will fall far short of meeting the real needs in higher education in Utah," the commissioner said.

Kerr expressed appreciation that tax initiatives did not pass. Had they passed, they would have forced the regents to eliminate 10,000 students from higher education and boost tuition 25 to 30 percent. However, he said, higher education has heard the clear message of the 40 percent who favor tax limitation.

"We cannot just pass by those feelings lightly," he said.

Stretching budget dollars, however, has its price - many of the colleges' needs will go unfunded, he said.

Kerr's 1989-90 recommendation is 18.5 percent lower than what he recommended last year when he - and the regents - suggested a $26.6 million increase in state funds for higher education. The governor's request pared that down to $2.07 million and the Legislature finally appropriated a $2.2 million increase.

Included in the recommendation is a 9 percent tuition increase for the state's four-year colleges and universities and an 8 percent increase for the two-year schools. This year, Utah college students had an 8 percent increase at the universities, a 6 percent at the four-year colleges, and a 4-percent at the two year schools .

If approved, the tuition increases would bring in $5.9 million.

Annual tuition, without fees, would be: University of Utah, $1,450; Utah State University, $1,190; Weber State College, $1,000; Southern Utah State College, $950; Snow College, $750; Dixie College, $890; College of Eastern Utah, $760; Utah Valley Community College, $930; and Salt Lake Community College, $980.

Utah student leaders did not oppose the tuition increase in Friday's hearings, but they pled for a lesser amount. Darin Bird, president of the Utah Student Association, which represents 100,000 college students statewide, said the students were willing to pay for increases consistent with those in the past. He said proposed increase should be dropped to 8 percent at the universities, 7 percent at the four-year colleges and 6 percent at the two year schools.

U. student officer Brian Robertson said students would willingly shoulder their share of the financial burden if the state commits to an equal increase in state funding to higher education. Dwindling state support is the crux of the problem, he said.

But several students and regents said it would be difficult to tie tuition to appropriation increases.

For months, the college presidents have bemoaned faculty salaries lower than those at comparable institutions, saying their faculty are enticed, in increasing numbers, to take out-of-state positions because of higher salaries elsewhere.

But faculty won't be making up the salary gap with this recommended budget. Second on the commissioner's recommended funding priorities is a 4.5 percent inflation adjustment for faculty and staff salaries. That falls far short of the compensation gap that, depending upon the school, ranges from 14 to 27 percent.

Utah Public Employees Association spokesman Mark Mickelsen asked for a 7.5 percent increase for faculty and staff, including a 3 percent cost of living adjustment, a 2 percent merit pay increase, and a 2.5 percent "catch-up" adjustment to narrow the salary gap.

Edward B. Walker, of the Utah Association of Academic Professionals, which represents faculty statewide, applauded the 4.5 percent proposed increase, but said it wasn't enough. He asked for a major salary adjustment to bring Utah faculty salaries in line with comparable institutions elsewhere.

In a departure from previous years, the college presidents did not present requests, but recited their most pressing needs that will go unfunded under the commissioner's recommendation. Among the most frequently mentioned were salary increases, library acquisitions and new equipment.