The University of Maryland has received a $425,000 "challenge grant" from the National Endowment for the Humanities to establish a Center for Jewish Studies at the College Park campus.

The grant, which Maryland must match with $3 for every $1 donated by the National Endowment, will allow the university to expand and develop what is already a substantial program in Jewish studies at College Park, according to David Ruderman, who still head the program.

With 6,000 Jewish students in the total enrollment of 35,000 at College Park, Jews now constitute the largest single ethnic group on campus and establishment of the Center for Jewish Studies is only one program that reflects renewed interest in ethnicity among Jews and other ethnic groups.

Since 1946, Maryland has offered Hebrew courses and, currently, more than 300 students take Hebrew every semester. The courses include introductory courses, Biblical studies, Talmund and rabbinical literature, medieval Hebrew literature and modern Hebrew literature.

For the last two or three years, Yiddish courses have been offered through the German department. Yiddish, based in part on German, was prevalent primarily in Eastern Europe before World War II. Since the war, however, it has been nearly eliminated from that part of the world.

"It is only spoken now by an older generation of Jews in this country and in Israel," said Ruderman, "but it is a language and a literature of tremendous importance."

Many Yiddish students at the university are older people who are studying under a tuition waiver program for senior citizens, Ruderman said. He noted, however, he expected interest in Yiddish to increase since Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

To raise the $1.2 million needed to qualify for the National Endowment grant, Ruderman said he hopes to draw primarily on the Jewish communities of Washington and Baltimore.

He said he also would like to establish a foreign study program so Maryland students could spend a year at the Hebrew University in Israel - where Ruderman received his PhD - and would like to add faculty positions in ancient Jewish history, Jewish philosophy and Jewish sociology as well as increase the collection of Jewish writings in the library.

In addition to the courses in Hebrew and Yiddish, Maryland offers several in medieval and modern Jewish history.

Even among the most academically gifted students, there is one salient factor that separates the highly successful from the rest, says a Johns Hopkins University psychologist.

That critical factor: homework.

In an address before the American Psychological Association, professor Julian Stanley discussed his work in identifying and motivating seventh grade students who do exceptionally well in mathematics. Stanley has directed the work, known as the Hopkins Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, for the past seven years.

"Over and over again in every such class we have found that the main variable differentiating the successful students - who forge ahead well at astonishing speeds - from the unsuccessful ones is homework," Stanley said.

"Those who do it well thrive, and those who do it poorly don't keep up. The more equal the students in the class are in mathematical aptitude and general intelligence, the more striking the phenomenon becomes."

Stanley spoke to the Psychological Association as recipient of the educational psychology division's Edward L. Thorndike Award for Distinguished Contribution to Education. The winner last year was the celebrated Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget.

Recognition of the homework factor, Stanley said, warrants a major effort to make sure homework policies are adhered to. "It would seem to deserve massive attacks with all the interdisciplinary tools of psychology, sociology, psychiatry and common sense at our disposal . . . Behaviour modification techniques, augmented by careful study of the dynamics of individual families within homes, in communities and in schools should enable a considerable percentage of these brilliant youths to function more effectively. The direct gains to them and to society would be enormous."