In a move designed to keep the school in step with the evolving role of telecommunications in higher education, George Washington University will begin broadcasting classes to several area companies when its new school year begins next week.

Classes from the new television studio, which cost the university $1.2 million, will be transmitted to Melpar, a division of E-Systems Inc., and to the Naval Research Laboratory. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration also will transmit the courses by satellite to locations in Virginia, Texas, Florida and California.

"GW has recognized the need to be adaptable in the rapidly changing education world," said William Long, dean of the university's division of continuing education, which operates the television studio.

GW is the first university in the District to tackle such a program, although George Mason University and the University of Maryland both offer courses on television, GW officials said.

Tuition for the 15 classes in computer science, electrical engineering, administrative management and management information systems will cost the same as any class offered by GW, $158 per credit hour, Long said. Through a two-way communications system, the students can ask questions and talk to the professor during class. A courier will shuttle papers and tests back and forth between the university and the companies, said Genine Amada, instructional designer.

"We are striving to make our facilities available to students nationally and internationally. The obvious way to do this is television," Long said.

"There are a great deal of resources within the city that somehow just don't get beyond the people who come here," he said. Within five years, he envisions the university "teaching English to Egyptian students in Cairo, bringing Smithsonian exhibits to people in California, and telecasting government hearings to particular industrial, governmental and neighborhood groups."

The university expects telecommunications to alter permanently the dynamics of higher education, especially the cost to students, Long said. In 10 years, Long expects many people to take classes from their homes and offices, thus eliminating transportation or room and board costs, he said.

In the past few months, the cost of the equipment for receiving the telecasts dropped dramatically from several thousand dollars to several hundred dollars when GW redesigned the antenna, said Barry Jaboda, a university spokesman.

Equally important to GW and other universities, their costs also will drop. One professor, instead of teaching 25 students, can teach an unlimited number via television, Long said, and the university will need the same number or fewer classrooms.

"It's the only way to go in higher education, especially for private universities," he said, adding that the mortality rate for those private insitutions that do not become involved in similar programs will rise sharply.

This drastic change will prove ultimately better for higher education, Long maintains. "The visible medium, I have always thought, is more effective than just reading."