While the majority of colleges in the United States are putting out the welcome mat to attract prospective students, many historically black colleges are overwhelmed with interested students. Because of a higher birth rate among blacks, the pool of college-age blacks is actually increasing, says Reginald Wilson, senior scholar at the American Council on Education in Washington.

But the proportion of blacks who go on to higher education is substantially lower than most other segments of the population, says Charles V. Willie, professor of education and urban studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

``Despite the fact that blacks ... are increasing in the population, their enrollment in higher education was actually declining during the 1980s,'' Dr. Wilson says.

That trend began to turn around in 1988. More and more blacks are being attracted to historically black colleges - and their numbers are beginning to swell at predominantly white institutions as well, Wilson says.

``There is a definite trend for blacks to go back to the black colleges,'' says Sondra Reine, coordinator of recruitment at Xavier University in New Orleans. Interest in Xavier, which is known for its excellent science programs, has skyrocketed in recent years. For the first time in the school's history, a waiting list was created this spring. The school received 1,300 applications for the freshman class; about 600 students will be accepted, says Ms. Reine.

Spelman College, a black women's college in Atlanta, received a record number of applications last year and almost met that record again this year.

Improved recruitment efforts and a commitment to average or below-average students may be responsible for bringing greater numbers of black students to colleges. ``Black colleges continue to reach out to these youngsters and usually do not put barriers in their pathway,'' Dr. Willie says.

Some suggest that escalating racial harassment on predominantly white campuses is encouraging black students to seek out the more hospitable environment offered at black schools. That may very well be a factor, says Wilson.

Other scholars do not subscribe to such a cause-and-effect relationship. ``Blacks have always been able to endure harassment,'' Willie says, ``they have expected it and have overcome it.''

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