Steven H. Eversley from McKinley High School here was tired of the pressure of being one of two black biochemistry majors at the University of Massachusetts.

"I was always having to prove myself," he said. "My instructors seemed to have no frame of reference for dealing with me." He found a psychological refuge at Howard University.

Jamie C. Quarrelles also is back in Washington, where she has found financial refuge at Howard. She felt the crunch of paying $8,000 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Howard costs $2,200 plus expenses, and she can live at home.

Eversley and Quarrelles are signals that something is different these days on the yard at Howard, where transfer enrollment is up nearly 25 percent. "I think the transfers are about 50 percent for financial reasons and 50 percent for psychological-social benefits," says Dr. Kenneth S. Tollett, director of Howard's Institute for the Study of Educational Policy. "Apparently more and more of students are opting for a more livable environment over status. There is a new breed of white students who are less liberal than their parents. This is not something that has been studied much systematically . . . I have been looking at it anecdotally."

The changing psychological climate was hinted at in February 1981, when the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education reported an outbreak of cross burnings and racial slurs that was worrying some predominantly white colleges. While some observers thought the Chronicle exaggerated its case, most agree that tensions are real and perhaps contribute to the number of freshmen at the school this year sporting T-shirts from prestigious prep schools.

Yet race is not all that is involved. Cutbacks in federal student aid, for instance, are forcing out low-income students while many from higher-income families are transferring from more expensive schools. And the mood on many of America's college campuses has changed.

One university administrator noted that during visits to predominantly white campuses 10 years ago, he observed black students choosing self-isolation, yet not feeling marginal because they had a sense of unity and a common goal of establishing black identity.

Today, the observer said, many black students feel isolated without a cause. Black studies programs are in retreat, there is a national trend toward conservatism and the galvanizing force of black consciousness is dramatically lessened. As a result, many students feel increasingly on the edge of the mainstream.

It would be a mistake to take this transfer trend as an indication that the country's best and brightest blacks are now returning en masse to black schools such as Howard. This clearly isn't so. Most American colleges and universities still make strong efforts to get and keep minority students and there are plenty of excellent black students to go around.

Interestingly, Howard professors who complained a decade ago that they were suddenly getting only leftovers from newly integrated schools can look forward once again to getting some of the cream of the crop.

The picture emerging is that of a partially desegregated society, where blacks no longer feel compelled to rush into white schools just because white schools suddenly have opened their doors to them. There is a renaissance of black college life, a new recognition in the value of traditionally black colleges, and that's a plus. Black students have a real choice.

Still, it's a complex, murky picture, as Steven Eversley is quick to point out. "Part of his decision to leave Massachusetts was my personality. I felt uncomfortable going to white professors when I didn't know what was going on. I didn't want them to say, 'Here's this only black student and he doesn't know what's going on.' I wasn't finding it easy to establish relationships with people who could help me. I thought it would be easier to get people to take me seriously at Howard."