"There is some confusion now and it's uncertain what the full impact will be," said Christopher Edley, executive director of the United Negro College Fund, about the cuts in federal loans to students. "We need public funding, but we also need more support from the private sector, too."

Last night an influential chunk of the private sector turned out for the UNCF's first annual "Salute To Leadership" dinner, where six Washingtonians were honored for their service or contributions to the fund. About 1,000 guests attended a formal reception and banquet at the Washington Hilton to greet and pay tribute to:

Walter H. Annenberg, who serves as a trustee for the Foundation of Independent Colleges; Vincent C. Burke Jr., chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Riggs National Bank and a former general chairman of the UNCF; Lois Hechinger England, a national board member of Goodwill Industries; Katharine Graham, chairman of the board of The Washington Post Company; ViCurtis Hinton, honorary director of the Washington Performing Arts Society; and Walter E. Washington, former mayor of Washington.

Despite the colorful dresses and warm greetings between old colleagues, one theme of the evening was grave -- that financial aid to impoverished students is running out and enrollment in private black institutions is dropping. "It affects the neediest the most," said Samuel DuBois Cook, president of Dillard University in New Orleans. "And the worst part is the ambiguity and confusion" among students. Herman Stone, president of Tennessee's Lane University, said 95 percent of his students depend on financial aid.

"If we're going to curtail welfare support," Annenberg said, "we have to be mindful of the private sector stepping up aid, especially in education . . . People have to be supportive in a manner at least in keeping with their own good fortune."

As Hinton pointed out, many black leaders attended black colleges. Among those present last night were Mayor Marion Barry, who attended Fisk University, and Rep. Walter Fauntroy, who attended Virginia Union University. J.C. Hayward, WDVM-TV's anchor who served as master of ceremonies, called black colleges the "backbone and foundation for black peoples."