NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — New Jersey Governor Chris Christie reached an agreement with Democrats in the state legislature last week that will result in a law enabling the state's universities and public colleges to allow illegal immigrants to pay the in-state tuition rate. A public bill signing is being planned.

The decision plays to a larger issue: whether or not people who are undocumented should be provided the range of benefits given to legal residents, such as access to reduced tuition at state-supported schools.

Reuters reported last week that Christie cited the "hundreds of thousands of dollars" the state has already invested in the K-12 educations of students already living illegally in the state as reason enough for providing tuition breaks. Students will be required to have attended at least three years of high school in New Jersey.

Candidate Christie seemed to favor the idea last year when he was running for re-election but since then has blown hot and cold on any law. Christie, a Republican, eventually decided to sign when an amendment was added that would prevent undocumented students from getting state grants and loans. The Office of Legislative Services stated that there was no good data on unauthorized immigrant students in the state and had no projections on any fall in tuition revenue.

The reduction in tuition will be significant from the students' point of view. Tuition for New Jersey residents living off-campus is $13,499 per year, or $345 per credit hour. Non-New Jersey residents pay $27,523 or $803 per credit hour.

But being shut out of state benefits will be significant also—the state offers some 20 programs that make close to $500 million available to those attend school in-state. A customer service rep for the state's NJCLASS Loans said the figure quoted and the other programs on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Website's New Jersey page represents annual funding--in this case $237 million per year. Tuition Aid Grants (TAG) is second with $218 million.

Annual amounts drop off from there; TAG is followed by the Educational Opportunity fund (EOF) at $25.4 million. The NJ Student Tuition Assistance Reward Scholarship (NJ STARS) is $6.7 million, the Edward J. Bloustein Distinguished Scholars (DS) $5.4 million, the part-time Tuition Aid Grant (County Colleges - TAG) $4.6 million and the Urban Scholars award at $2.1 million.

Fourteen other funding sources are available that support a range of students, from minority candidates and military veterans to those pursuing careers in law, dentistry, veterinary medicine and law enforcement. Details are available here.

Federal aid is also denied to students who can't prove they are in the country legally. Even relatively well-heeled U.S. citizens often don't get their degrees without federal loans.