Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, pressing an effort to raise academic quality, urged the state's public colleges yesterday to toughen admissions requirements and cut back on remedial work, which he said properly belonged in high school.

As part of what he said was a program to "encourage excellence," Robb suggested that some state funds be targeted to improve particular college programs rather than given as general aid. He added that the quality of all college programs should be reviewed by the State Council of Higher Education. "Programs which do not pass muster," Robb said, "should be closed."

The governor spoke in Washington to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, a group made up of officials who coordinate state higher education programs.

He used the occasion to denounce the Reagan administration's proposed cuts in federal student aid as "hasty, careless and disorganized." But he said the states now have a chance to "reassert their historic and constitutional primacy" in areas where the federal government had improperly "assumed a dominant position."

In calling for tougher college admissions standards, Robb complained that by relaxing requirements a decade ago colleges had helped lower standards in high schools too. He said the state's four-year colleges and universities should require entering students to have taken at least two years of a foreign language, "rigorous courses in advanced mathematics, science, and letters . . . and yes, even higher admissions test scores when appropriate."

He added, "It is a contradiction in terms to speak of 'remedial higher education,' " and said "primary responsibility for remedial work" should be assigned to elementary and secondary schools.

The only remedial work at the college level, Robb said, should be in the open-admissions community colleges, which take any high school graduate, and in the four-year colleges when dealing with "specific sub-populations."

Robb did not explain that term, but Gordon K. Davies, executive director of the Virginia State Council of Higher Education, who helped prepare the speech, said the governor was referring to blacks admitted under the state's desegregation agreement with the U.S. Justice Department and older students, particularly women, returning to college after many years out of school.

He said Robb was "strongly committed to the desegregation plan."

Robb also called for greater cooperation between public colleges and private business, possibly including tax incentives for industries to conduct vocational programs.

At the colleges themselves, Robb said, "It is time for us to stop growth for growth's sake and to stop spreading scarce higher education resources more and more thinly across an array of unnecessary programs. Institutions should offer only those programs which they are best able to provide."