A group of immigrants, known as DREAMers, hold flowers as they listen to a news conference about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 2012. Getty Images

Jessica Moreno-Caycho has big dreams and a plan to achieve them. She wants to graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University, move to New York City and design costumes on Broadway. A theatre major and musicals fan, her favorite shows are "The Lion King," "In the Heights" and "Hamilton," though not always ranked in that order.

Moreno-Caycho, 21, is on track to start her ambitious career next year after she finishes her degree. Or, at least, she was — before Donald Trump won the election.

As a Peruvian immigrant in Virginia, Moreno-Caycho's eligibility for highly discounted in-state tuition relies largely on her lawfully present status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy enacted by President Barack Obama's executive order in 2012. But Trump has vowed to cancel such "unconstitutional" actions during his first 100 days in the White House, leaving her anxious that she might not be able to afford to complete college.

"I'm just so close to the finish line," Moreno-Caycho said. "Knowing this could be easily taken away by a simple signature is just really upsetting."

She's one of thousands of undocumented youth across the United States who are worrying about and preparing for the possibility that their tuition could skyrocket in Trump's America. And they're not the only ones looking ahead to what might happen when the tycoon takes office in 2017. Policy experts and activists predict Trump's decision will add fuel to an ongoing national debate about undocumented immigrants' access to higher education.

"In the United States, we believe in social mobility: If you work hard, you can change your lot in life," said Liza Ryan, ‎organizing director for the Boston-based Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "Not allowing someone in-state education is a vote against that — against the values of our country."

Obama announced his deferred action initiative four years ago, just as the debate over tuition equity for undocumented immigrants was starting to unfold in statehouses across the nation. Since then, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has accepted applications from more than 840,000 people, granting them temporary protection from deportation, work permits, drivers licenses and, in some places, the ability to qualify for in-state tuition.

State legislatures and educational boards set policies for tuition at public colleges and universities, so they have the power to decide which students pay what amount. As such, residents have long been allowed to attend taxpayer-funded schools in their states at lower costs. In the 2016-2017 school year, the average tuition and fees for public, four-year institutions in a student's state totaled $9,650. For out-of-state students, they were $24,930, according to the College Board's most recent Trends in College Pricing report.

As immigrants' share of the population has grown, so, too, has the debate on whether an undocumented child who may have spent the same amount of time living in a state as a legal resident should enjoy the same discount. Conservatives have been historically reluctant to extend financial benefits to people who immigrated to the U.S. illegally, and Trump is no exception.

Trump won the presidency after running an anti-immigrant campaign in which he promised to deport up to 11 million people and proposed building a wall along the border with Mexico. When asked about DACA at a news conference this past February, he said he wanted to keep the government's focus on U.S.-born youth instead of DREAMers, the nickname for supporters of the unsuccessful Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act that would have helped young undocumented immigrants obtain legal status.

"We're always talking about 'DREAMers' for other people," he said. "I want the children that are growing up in the United States to be dreamers also. They're not dreaming right now."

In-state tuition can make a big difference to a family of undocumented immigrants, whose median household income in 2007 was $14,000 less than people born stateside. More than 90 percent of DACA recipients in school told the Center for American Progress last year that getting deferred action consideration allowed them to pursue educational opportunities they previously could not.

Moreno-Caycho is an example of this. When she graduated from high school in 2013, she thought she was headed straight to Virginia Commonwealth University — until she got the $22,000 bill for her first semester. At the time, Virginia hadn't made rules that allowed deferred action students to establish legal residency and therefore qualify for in-state tuition. Moreno-Caycho couldn't afford it, so she went to a more affordable community college until the laws changed and she'd saved enough to cover her bills.

Now facing a Trump presidency, she's started a new bedtime ritual. Every night, she spends about 30 minutes looking for scholarships that could cover her if DACA falls apart.

"I've just been telling my parents, 'Mom, don't worry, I'm working on it. I'll try as much as I can,'" Moreno-Caycho said.

About 20 states have laws allowing undocumented immigrants to access residential tuition rates based on factors like whether they graduated from a state high school. Others ban it entirely. But some university systems and states — like Virginia — mandate that undocumented students have to be lawfully present in the U.S., a classification they can obtain through Obama's program. This is also the case in Ohio, where the board of regents decided in 2013 to let DACA students pay in-state tuition rates if they satisfied other residency requirements, according to the uLEAD Network, an online group of university leaders that supports immigrant students.

As a result, Mohamed, an Ohio State University DACA student who was born to Somalian refugees, is starting to fret about Trump. The 23-year-old political science major said he already works full-time, and he doesn't think he could pay if his bills increased.

"Trepidation is definitely a word I would use," said Mohamed, who declined to give his last name due to ongoing immigration proceedings involving his family.

Though Trump has a history of flip-flopping on controversial issues, his most recent stance on DACA may be softening. Trump told Time in his "Person of the Year" interview Wednesday that he planned to "work something out" for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. But he noted that it was "a very tough situation."

"They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here," Trump continued. "Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen."

Despite Trump's recent reassurances, the changing political climate could also fuel tuition equity changes. Florida state Sen. Greg Steube, a Republican from Sarasota, filed a bill Nov. 30 to repeal a 2014 law that afforded undocumented immigrants in-state tuition. Steube said when he was campaigning, the tuition issue "came up time and time again."

Steube, who opposed the 2014 law while a member of the state House of Representatives, said he sees tuition equity essentially as an incentive for bad behavior. He added that he doesn't think it's fair to middle-income Americans in other states eyeing Florida colleges.

"They may have families or children or cousins who want to come here and go to school here. They're citizens of our country, and they're being treated less favorably than illegal immigrants who are here and came to the country illegally," Steube said, referencing the fact that a student born in Georgia would have to pay expensive out-of-state tuition while an undocumented immigrant wouldn't.

The lawmaker said his bill doesn't prevent immigrants from going to college — just from taking advantage of Florida's 2014 law. "I think it's time, given the election we just went through, to re-examine the policies in the states," Steube said.

Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., which describes its mission as pro-immigration, low-immigrant, said she thinks the Trump administration should declare Obama's executive action unconstitutional and work with Congress to find a solution. For example, Congress could come up with a narrowly defined amnesty policy that gave some DACA recipients green cards while adjusting immigration totals to accommodate them.

"This whole problem was created by President Obama's choice to use executive authority rather than work with Congress to find a permanent solution, if Congress even wanted to do that," Vaughan said. "One of his motivations was to set it up so that it became politically difficult for anyone to undo. But different is not the same as impossible."

A few Republicans have come out in support of preserving the policy. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Politico late last month he was putting together a bill to continue shielding immigrant youth. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., reportedly supports Graham's measure.

Even if Trump does end up revoking DACA and federal maneuvers fail, students aren't necessarily out of luck.

Jonathan Blazer, advocacy and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the country could see states or institutions step up to protect students who need the lower in-state tuition rates in order to continue their education. States could revise their laws, grandfather in certain people or come up with institutional scholarships to help lessen the blow on students' wallets.

"If they're losing their ability to continue on in school, that will turn into immediate advocates those college administrators to not lose those students that they've invested in," Blazer said. "And they will seek an immediate fix."

Since Trump's election, more than 500 college and university presidents have signed a digital letter asking for Obama's deferred action program to be "upheld, continued and expanded." Other leaders have issued statements to their campus communities promising to be sanctuaries for immigrant students. At the University of Pennsylvania, for example, President Amy Gutmann sent an email vowing to not allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Customs and Border Protection officers on campus unless they have warrants.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow told faculty, staff and students specifically that he would "rise to the challenge" should DACA be eliminated. Arizona's board of regents decided last year to let youth covered by the program access in-state tuition rates at the three state universities.

"If students lose the status that makes them eligible for in-state tuition, ASU will convene and engage the community on this issue to seek financial support for the continued study of students at ASU who graduated from Arizona high schools and who are qualified to attend the state universities — regardless of their immigration status," Crow wrote in a statement.

That was comforting to Thomas Kim, a 24-year-old South Korean immigrant enrolled at the university's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. Kim, who as a teenager thought he'd spend his life working in a restaurant, said Crow's comments gave him hope that undocumented students will be "just fine."

Even in the throes of finals week, Kim expressed gratitude for his college and law school experiences, which he said have equipped him to become a contributor to U.S. society. He hopes other undocumented youth get that same chance.

"You take away immigrants, you take away what makes America, America," Kim said.