When Tiffane White graduated from the National Cathedral School for Girls two years ago with a B average, she had the choice of going to Tufts University in Massachusetts, Emory University outside Atlanta, or Howard University in Washington. She chose Howard.
"All my mother's friends were amazed," White recalled. "They said, 'How could you spend all that money to put your daughter through private school and then end up sending her to Howard?'
"The worst thing was that my mother agreed with them," White continued. "She couldn't understand why I wanted to go to a black school either, even though I tried to explain that this was an experience I really needed after all those years in private school."
Middle class black families, seeking schools with smaller classes, better teachers and high college entrance test scores, are increasingly choosing to send their children to private schools. Like their white counterparts, these middle class black parents see private schools as an entree to the nation's elite colleges and universities.
Most of these black students, many of whom are actively recruited by Ivy League colleges, select predominantly white colleges. But some of these students are choosing historically black colleges.
The reasons include parental pride in their own alma maters, concerns about social life and a chance to learn more about the experiences of black people.
Jackie Walton Sadler is determined to send her daughter, now a ninth grader at National Cathedral, to Fisk, Sadler's alma mater.
"I know what it meant going to a small black college where you are treated as a person, not as a number," said Sadler. Over the years Sadler has instilled a respect for Fisk in her daughter by regularly taking her to the campus for homecoming and alumni association functions.
"When I visit Fisk today, I see teachers I had 25 years ago who still remember my name," Sadler said. "I never felt that kind of personal touch later in graduate school where most of the students were white."
Officials at several historically black colleges reported no increase in the number of private school graduates, but there has been a significant rise in the number of students from predominantly white public and parochial schools, these officials said.
"These students are looking for a quality education, but also for a setting that will provide a grounding in the black experience many have never known," said Sharon Lowe, the dean of women at Hampton University.
"Many parents also know that we have a tradition of close supervision -- some students say too close -- and that we still take our role in loco parentis very seriously," she added.
Hampton is one of the few colleges that still enforces strict curfews for female students, she said.
Pat Johnson, assistant dean of admissions at Spelman College in Atlanta said that while some parents see black colleges as good places for their sons and daughters to find marriage partners, most parents are seeking the individual attention the school provides to its students.
Tiffane White, now a sophomore at Howard majoring in political science, said she has no regrets about her decision to attend a black college.
"I hated the inference that because Howard was a black school it was automatically not as good as the Ivy League colleges," she said.
"NCS really prepared me well in terms of knowing how to study and get good grades, but being at Howard has made me realize things about myself and being a black person in America that just wasn't there for me before. Now I'm taking a course in African history and I have learned that there were great civilizations in Africa that I never knew of.
"I feel that I know who I am now, and that there's something I can do for my race as a black woman. I don't know what it is yet, but I know there's a struggle and that it's my struggle," White said.
For Pam Owens, who graduated from Sidwell Friends in 1978 and then attended Hampton University, being at a predominantly black college was "like a revelation."
"I was sort of mixed up about my identity in high school," Owens said. "The kids in my neighborhood couldn't relate to me because I went to a white school. They thought I was stuck-up or something. At the same time I really didn't fit in at school. I was always going through an identity crisis, and stayed to myself a lot," Owens said.
"I never really participated in extra-curricular activities in high school," Owens recalled. "My mother couldn't take me on trips to Europe like the other kids, so we didn't have a lot to talk about. The black guys at Sidwell dated white girls, which hurt me a lot. I knew in my neighborhood I could never come home with a white boyfriend."
She added, "I never knew who Langston Hughes was because they didn't teach us about him at Sidwell," she said. "It wasn't until my freshman year at Hampton that I discovered that I had a heritage as a black person."
Owens, who majored in special education, now teaches emotionally disturbed children at a junior high school in Northeast Washington also found "a sense of identity at Hampton and I loved it. I felt that that was where I belonged, and just being there made me feel as if a great burden had been lifted off my shoulders."