A group of Dreamers, mostly of hispanic students, make their way towards Capitol Hill to get the attention of congress memebers about immigration reform in 2013. (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)

New federal measures to halt deportation of many illegal immigrants will spotlight a question of growing urgency for colleges: How should they handle applications from undocumented students for admissions and financial aid?

The issue emerged in President Obama’s first term amid a national debate about the “Dream Act,” which in various versions sought to protect certain students who entered into the United States illegally as young children, grew up in the country and graduated from U.S. high schools.

In 2012, Obama launched a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which shielded from deportation hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “Dreamers.” On Thursday, the White House announced measures that would make millions more illegal immigrants eligible for temporary protected status.

These executive actions touch many sectors of society, including higher education. Lawmakers in many states have debated whether to make undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Such students are not eligible for federal Pell grants.

The National Conference of State Legislatures said in May that at least 18 states, including Maryland, allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. In addition, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced in April that students protected through the DACA program would be eligible for in-state tuition.

During his speech on immigration reform, President Obama called on illegal immigrants to "come out of the shadows" and "get right with the law." (AP)

That is a significant financial boon for students. At the University of Virginia, undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board for Virginia residents total $23,050. For students from out of state, the total is $52,236.

For private schools, especially those with highly selective admissions, high tuition and tight aid budgets, applications from undocumented students pose different questions.

Some are responding more openly than ever before.

In late October, New York University quietly posted an invitation for undocumented New York residents to apply for scholarships. NYU, a private university with about 45,000 students, charges $62,930 for undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board. For many of its students, financial aid is essential.

John Beckman, NYU’s vice president of public affairs, said Thursday that the initiative came in response to a student group called Dream Team @ NYU. “A significant amount of credit has to go to these students,” he said. “We’re very proud of them for making this proposal and focusing our energies on this.”

Undocumented students from out of state will not be eligible, Beckman acknowledged. The scholarship requires applicants to have lived in New York from January 2012 through January 2015. Beckman called the scholarship “a pilot project” that will offer aid to New York’s undocumented students “on a par with” aid offered to legal residents from around the country.

Pomona College in Southern California has posted a straightforward statement of welcome.

“We seek to establish a diverse community of individuals who are intellectually talented, eager, and passionate,” the private liberal arts college said. “The college fully reviews undocumented and DACA-status students who graduate from a U.S. high school for both admission and for every type of private financial aid the college offers.” The 1,600-student college charges $60,532 for tuition, fees, room and board.

David W. Oxtoby, Pomona’s president, said he thinks the college has about 50 undocumented students. They are treated the same as any others, he said. The college even helps some of its DACA students arrange to study abroad, which poses special logistical difficulties.

“There’s nothing to hide,” Oxtoby said of the college’s stance on undocumented students. “It’s not a secret. We’re proud of this.”

Oberlin College in Ohio, with 2,900 students, also has made overtures to undocumented students. In February, the private college (full annual charges: $61,788) said such students would be considered as “domestic candidates for admission.”

Harvard University’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, said Thursday that she has heard moving personal stories from undocumented students among the 28,000 enrolled at the private university in Massachusetts.

“I am an advocate for those students and the potential they have,” Faust said, “and what they have given us at Harvard, and the kinds of contributions they make to the community and what they will certainly give this nation.”

Faust said undocumented students have “full access” to aid at a school with full undergraduate charges of $58,607. “Our financial aid policy is passport-blind,” she said.