ADRIAN NELSON, 20, is a black graduate of mostly white Rockville High School. But when it came time to go to college, he chose Hampton University, a historically black school in Virginia.
"I had to go to a school that would accept me for who I am, and strengthen my character," said Nelson, a senior economics major at Hampton, who also considered enrolling at the University of Maryland, Wake Forest College and Duke University.
Although black college officials lament that they are losing many black students to mainstream institutions, some say there has been a resurgence of interest in black colleges.
For one thing, recent studies suggest that black students do better academically, as well as socially, at black colleges.
In a seven-year study, research psychologist Jacqueline Fleming found that students at black colleges showed about twice as much academic and intellectual development as their black counterparts at predominantly white schools.
"The prevailing assumption at the time was that white schools were better able to assume responsibility for educating blacks because of their better facilities," said Fleming.
Instead, she found that intellectual development was aided more by "constructive relationships, mentor figures, inspiring teachers and exposure to people who believe in you. That's what black students are deprived of at white schools."
Fleming herself is a product of predominantly white schools, including her alma mater, Barnard College, where she is now an adjunct professor. And although she had a "very good educational experience," her social life left a lot to be desired.
"I didn't think I had a right to be a leader, it never occurred to me I could be a popular person," Fleming recalled. "Mostly, black students on white campuses are ignored, and I don't think that's changed since I was in school."
In another study, Joan Baratz-Snowden, a researcher at the Educational Testing Service, found that students at black colleges did as well in terms of grades and entry rates to graduate school as did black students at white colleges.
In addition, based on the number of BA degrees they award, it appears that black colleges do a better job of keeping black students in school until graduation day, Baratz-Snowden said.
Yet, another study found that black males, at least, tend to do better in the working world if they graduate from predominately white colleges. Jomills Henry Braddock II, research scientist for the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, has followed up a survey of the class of 1972 five times since graduation.
He found "at white colleges, black students have the opportunity to tie into a broader range of social networks that provide information, contacts, and sponsorships to higher paying and more prestigious jobs." Black female graduates, however, do about the same in the job market regardless of where they went to college, he said.
Recent publicized racial incidents at such institutions as Dartmouth College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Michigan and The Citadel also may encourage more blacks to enroll at black colleges.
"Some black students have not found majority campuses to be very congenial places," said Donald M. Stewart, president of the College Board and former president of Spelman College in Atlanta.
Some black colleges say they are getting more transfer students from predominantly white campuses. At Howard University, the number of transfer students grew from 800 in 1980-81 to 976 last year, said spokesman Henry Duvall.
Norman Francis, president of Xavier College in New Orleans, also is "noticing more bright young transfers who felt their total development was not taking place" at predominantly white schools.