Children who grew up in the same neighborhoods and went to the same schools may pay more than their classmates to go to college, if they came to this country illegally.

That may sound fair. But, for the nation, it's a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

These children of illegal immigrants are going to stay in this country. It is best that they become well-educated, gainfully employed, and able to give back to American society. Some of these kids are top scholars. If they do well, the entire country will benefit from their contributions.

Congress has before it legislation that would help these children by making undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state college tuition and financial aid. Such a move would open up educational opportunities to thousands of students.

Of course, it's only a partial solution to a bigger problem. This country needs a new immigration policy that would provide a pathway to legal residency for millions of people working and raising families in this country.

The College Board, which represents more than 5,000 schools and administers the SAT college entrance exams, supports the tuition legislation. It was spurred to take a stance after several states sought to block illegal immigrants from paying in-state tuition or even enrolling in public colleges and universities.

The College Board estimates that 360,000 illegal immigrants with a high school diploma could qualify for the tuition aid. An additional 715,000 between ages 5 and 17 would also benefit.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that illegal immigrants are entitled to a K-12 public school education, but failed to address the issue of college.

Under the proposed Dream Act, illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States at age 15 or younger could seek conditional legal status after graduating from high school, if they have lived here at least five years. That status would make them eligible for in-state tuition and some federal financial aid. After two years of college or military service, they would qualify for permanent legal residency and citizenship.

A blue-ribbon panel in New Jersey recently recommended in-state-tuition legislation. And Gov. Corzine has endorsed the idea. But a recent Monmouth University/Gannett New Jersey poll found most state residents oppose it.

People shouldn't let their emotions about illegal immigrants blind them to the reality that many of them, if given the opportunity for a good education, will work hard to give back to the nation that gave them a chance.