A dramatic, late Friday afternoon $11 million addition to the Montana University System budget has cut almost in half the $23 million deficit it was anticipating for the next two years.

Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education Kevin McRae said on Saturday that the House Appropriations Committee came through with the funds just before the close of business on Friday.

"It was a major good day for students and tuition-payers,"McRae said. "The committee, with bipartisan support, restored a significant amount of the proposed funding shortage for the next two years. Until yesterday, (Friday) the funding shortage was about $23 million. Yesterday, the committee restored about $11 million. I got a chance to talk to Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian earlier this morning. I told him you and I would be talking today, and he asked me to share some of his views on this legislative action."

Christian said he was profoundly relieved over the committee's decision.

"It was a great day for students yesterday," Christian said. "When the committee restored about half of that cut, that was significant. We certainly appreciate the challenge the legislature faces in funding state services in these difficult times, but for the committee and the legislature to exhibit confidence in higher education and our colleges and universities by restoring about half of that cut, that was a major good move for students. So, we publicly extend our thanks to the House Appropriations Committee, and look forward to continuing to work together with legislators for the remainder of the session."

In an interview less that 24 hours before, McRae made the following statement:

"There is a direct correlation to tuition prices and access to education," he said. "For every dollar the tuition is increased there is someone who makes a decision that they cannot afford to enroll in college. The challenge will be to offset the tuition increases with educational cuts."