OK, we understand this rankles a great many people:

Why should undocumented immigrants - they came here illegally! - be entitled to in-state tuition at New Jersey colleges and universities? For that matter, why are we spending tax dollars to provide these undocumented immigrants with a K-12 education in the first place? What is it about the word "illegal" that you don't understand?

That's an argument that has a great deal of emotional appeal to some.

The problem is, that emotional reaction cannot withstand rational scrutiny.

Why let undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition? Why give them a free public K-12 education in the first place?

Because ... it is better than the alternative.

Better for America. Better for New Jersey. Better for these students, who likely had no say in their parents' decision to cross the border illegally.

Last week, the state Senate Higher Education Committee approved a controversial bill to allow those who have entered the country illegally to qualify for in-state tuition. The Assembly, scared of the backlash, has taken no action on the measure, which means for the moment that the bill is stalled.

But it is a reasonable measure that deserves passage. And, folks, what does it cost you? Do you really think Rutgers loses money on students who pay in-state tuition?

The bill allows students without lawful immigration status to pay in-state tuition if they have attended high school in New Jersey for three or more years, if they have graduated from a New Jersey high school or received an equivalency diploma - and if they submit an affidavit to the college or university saying they have filed an application to legalize their immigration status or will file the application as soon as they are eligible.

For some of these students, being able to pay in-state tuition means the difference between going to college or not going to college. At Rutgers, the full out-of-state tuition of $26,393 is more than twice the in-state rate.

How does New Jersey - or our nation at large - benefit by denying a higher education to a motivated student? That education can make the difference between a person being a drain on the economy or a productive member of society.

And how can making it possible for these students to get a college education not be preferable to simply punishing them because their parents came here illegally?

Assembly leaders should get over their qualms, and the Legislature should approve this measure when it reconvenes.