CHICAGO -- Last April, Marina Bailey and her 18-year-old daughter, Chinue, boarded a train bound for Howard University in Washington, one of several colleges to which the high school honor student had gained admission.
The Baileys were so eager to visit the predominantly black university that they used money from the family's income tax refund to pay for the trip, even though it was needed for other expenses. Marina Bailey, 38, is unemployed, and her husband, Hubert, 43, is a laborer.
But for the Baileys, who never attended college, having a child attend Howard was like reaching utopia.
"We were really excited," Ms. Bailey said. "I love Howard. It is a black Harvard. I had never seen a historic black college. It was awesome to see the buildings. It was majestic."
But the trip ended in disappointment, even though Chinue had been named one of the 10 outstanding students in the nation by Ebony Magazine.
The reason: Howard could offer only a $6,500 scholarship toward the $13,000-a-year tuition.
This fall, Chinue Bailey enrolled at the University of Chicago, which offered to pay 98 percent of her $27,000 tuition.
Getting almost a "full ride" at one of the nation's top universities is not a punishment. But it wasn't Ms. Bailey's first choice. Her situation underscores the vexing problems hitting the country's predominantly black colleges.
At a time when black colleges are experiencing a resurgence in the number of applications, many potential students are unable to enroll because of the limited pool of scholarship and endowment money available at those schools.
And even colleges that are providing more full scholarships than ever are inundated with growing numbers of needy students seeking assistance.
In the 1960s, some traditional black colleges began to fear extinction as they lost enrollment to white colleges. But black colleges have become more popular in recent years, partly because of the rise of multicultural education curriculums in grade schools and high schools. The black schools also have repositioned themselves, making the case that they really care about the success of black students.
And increasing racial tensions on some integrated campuses in recent years also are driving more and more African-American students and their parents to seek out black colleges.
Chinue Bailey, for example, was ranked eighth out of 285 students in her class at Waukegan (Ill.) High School, with a 3.6 grade-point average on a 4-point scale. And she scored 24 on the American College Test out of a possible 36. Even with those credentials, she did not qualify for a full scholarship at Howard, which could offer only 100 this year.
"Most [black colleges] are in the East or the South. They draw more than they have in the past," said Frank Burtnett, executive director of the National Association of College Admission Counselors in Alexandria, Va. "Their applications are up, and they have become more selective in who they offer scholarships to and how they package financial aid."
About 1.2 million black students, a record number, were enrolled in U.S. colleges in 1990, the most recent year for which statistics were available. Of that number, 210,000 were in the nation's 105 historically black institutions, a 10 percent increase from 1980 figures, said Vance Grant, a specialist at the U.S. Education Department in Washington.
Ninety percent of the students going to those colleges will need some form of financial support, said Mark Pubis, a spokesman for the United Negro College Fund.
The fund hopes to raise $250 million by 2000 to keep tuition down and provide scholarships at the 41 predominantly black colleges it represents.
Nevertheless, black colleges can't come close to raising the money that other major universities have. Hampton University in Virginia, for example, has the largest endowment, $90 million. By comparison, Harvard University has a $4.4 billion endowment.
At the same time, many black universities are being swamped with applications. Florida A&M; University in Tallahassee, for example, had an enrollment five years ago of 5,000. This fall, the enrollment nearly doubled to 9,800, said Eddie Jackson, the director of university relations.
The demand for historically black colleges is sparked by a number of factors, educators say, not the least of which is the increase in multicultural education in elementary and secondary schools.
Students are learning more about black professionals, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey and Thurgood Marshall, who were educated at black colleges.
"The one guarantee that every single HBC [historically black college] offers is that it will be a supportive environment," said Andre Phillips, associate director of admission for the University of Chicago. "They are committed to the success of African-American students. Whatever a majority institution has to say, we cannot make that guarantee, and that is a pretty darn convincing argument.
"Put yourself in the place of a parent of a 17-year-old. You want to see a guarantee," Mr. Phillips said.
Another factor, experts say, is that race relations between blacks and whites on some campuses have reached a boiling point in recent years. And many black parents, who themselves went to college during the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s, don't want their children to face similar experiences.
Memories from the 1970s are one reason Ms. Bailey wanted her daughter to attend Howard. Her daughter, who was the only black student in many of her high school classes, experienced problems with white teachers who didn't take her seriously and students who refused to study with her.
L At Howard, Ms. Bailey said, her daughter could have thrived.
"For the first time in her life, all she had to be was herself," Ms. Bailey said. "For the first time in her life, she was so happy. She was going to Howard, going to an African-American college, and she would not be the only one in her class."
The Baileys say that they are not bitter toward Howard and that they understand the challenges before black institutions, something they did not realize until they visited the campus.
"Many blacks don't realize that the black colleges are tapped beyond reason; they are hemorrhaging trying to help incoming students," Ms. Bailey said. "All these kids need help. We didn't know that until we got there."
For Chinue Bailey, who wants to go into business and aspires to become a Supreme Court justice, attending a black college is a closed chapter for now. She declined to take out a student loan, fearing that it would stall her efforts to earn her master's and then a law degree.
"They say everybody needs a slice of the pie, and it is getting smaller," said the student, a chemical engineer intern at Abbott Laboratories in North Chicago. At night, she works as a manager at McDonald's. But that $1,800 a month she earns is not enough to cover the $6,500 she needs to attend Howard.
The fact that black students are being steered away from black institutions is troubling to many, especially when, before 1954, they were among the few schools in the nation that opened their doors to blacks.
Some say the blame lies with the federal government, which is reducing student grants; the institutions, who lack the personnel to lobby for more federal dollars; and the alumni, who refuse to give.
"It is kind of sad a black kid wants to attend a black institution but can't because of money," said Sterling Hutson, director of admissions and deputy vice president for academic affairs at Morehouse College in Atlanta. "That is a sad irony, but it is the real thing going on."