The Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore has raised $15 million in endowment funds since April, qualifying it for a matching grant from the state of Maryland that will give it financial stability. This fund-raising achievement was announced yesterday by William C. Richardson, president of Johns Hopkins University. Peabody became a part of Johns Hopkins, averting a threat of bankruptcy, in 1977.

In the last 10 years, with administrative help from Johns Hopkins, Peabody has raised a bit more than $10 million in endowment funds but has still been financially pressed. The $15 million it has raised this year, plus the matching $15 million to be given by the state over the next five years, will give it an endowment fund of more than $40 million (probably closer to $50 million with other money coming in) by 1996. The state will also give the school $15 million in operating funds, independent of the endowment money, over the next five years.

In the late '90s, a second fund-raising campaign will be launched to raise the endowment to approximately $80 million. This will put Peabody in roughly the same class financially as the Juilliard School in New York, Curtis in Philadelphia and Eastman in Rochester, generally regarded as the leading American conservatories. It should also ensure the survival for the foreseeable future of an institution that has been widely respected but financially troubled for many years.

Peabody officials gave major credit for this achievement to Lt. Gov. Melvin A. ("Mickey") Steinberg. Steinberg began to look into the conservatory's problems two years ago, heading a task force established by Gov. William Donald Schaefer. Although he had never been interested in Peabody before, he became, in his own words, a "true believer"; he shepherded the plan for state support through a General Assembly that was cutting budgets left and right, and then worked hard on fund-raising.

"I'm very happy after so much time and effort," he said yesterday. "Politically, everybody likes to be a winner, but as a Marylander I'm also very pleased. In a sluggish economy, the tremendous response we have had represents a recognition by our people that, even in tough times, our cultural resources, institutions and facilities have to be protected. Peabody helps to make Maryland a good place to live, and I'm happy to see that fact recognized."

He added that he will not believe his work is finished until Peabody has an endowment comparable to other major conservatories: "When we investigated, we found that this was the difference between Peabody and its peers; the quality was there, the recognition was there; the difference from Juilliard, Curtis and Eastman was one of economic stability. Conservatories by their very nature are deficit operations; the ratio of faculty to students makes that inevitable. We have to ensure that Peabody can survive as a deficit operation."

When the announcement was made yesterday, Peabody had collected $11.8 million and said the remainder was promised but there had not yet been time to process the pledges. At that point, Johns Hopkins pledged the remaining $3.2 million to fulfill the legislature's requirements within the deadline. Actually, the size of the pledge is already obsolete. A contribution of $500,000 came in from a Baltimore woman about 5:30 yesterday afternoon, raising the total to $12.3 million and counting.

"We appreciate the support of Johns Hopkins as a pledge partner," said Peabody Director Robert Pierce, who described his mood as one of "cautious exhilaration." At the rate the money is coming in, he added, "we hope that no cash outlay by Hopkins will be required."

In exchange for its financial contributions, Maryland will assume title to the Peabody's large and valuable collection of art, Pierce said. The paintings and sculptures will remain where they are now, at Peabody and a half-dozen museums in Baltimore, he said, "but we will not be able -- and we will not need -- to sell them for our survival."