President and Mrs. Reagan will be the guests of honor at a $1,000 per person fund-raising reception for Howard University on the university campus next month, the Howard press office announced yesterday.

The May 20 appearance is the latest in a series of administration efforts to support the black university, whose president, James E. Cheek, has praised Reagan warmly since his election.

Although Howard is a private university, the federal government pays about three-quarters of its academic expenses. This year Howard's direct federal appropriation is $139.4 million, which the Reagan administration has sought to increase while proposing major cuts in most other federal education aid.

Yesterday a Howard spokesman, Alan Hermesch, said the president's appearance at the fund-raiser "indicates his commitment to bringing increased support from the private sector to the university."

Since 1977 Howard has raised $51.1 million from private donors, Hermesch said, as part of a $100 million development campaign.

Assistant White House press secretary Mark Weinberg said Reagan hopes to attend the reception, although he declined to definitely confirm the appearance, a practice the White House has generally followed about the president's schedule since the attempt on his life last year. The president is "very interested" in Howard and other black universities, Weinberg said.

In November, Mrs. Reagan toured Howard University Hospital, and last spring Vice President George Bush was the main speaker at Howard's commencement. Although most of the audience applauded Bush politely, a few dozen demonstrators chanted loudly during much of his speech and about 40 graduating seniors stood up and turned their backs at the start of his remarks.

Reagan's visit to the ballroom of the university's Blackburn Center next month will be about two weeks after virtually all students leave campus at the end of spring term, which closes with commencement May 8.

In 1980, the latest year for which figures are available, Howard received more federal money than any university except Johns Hopkins. But while Hopkins receives the bulk of its funds for a defense research laboratory, at Howard most of the funds were for general academic support. The federal government helped establish Howard for freed slaves in 1867, and has long given it substantial aid.

In an interview last year, Howard President Cheek said, "We always got more from the Republicans than the Democrats."

On the Larry King radio show in January, he defended Reagan against criticism by the Urban League and other black groups condemning administration budget cuts.

"My view is that clearly this country could not continue in the direction it was going" before Reagan took office, Cheek said. "It was predictable that black people and poor people would, in the process of trying to rectify the problem, be hurt. However, they were already being hurt by virtue of the direction in which the economy was going."

Cheek added that during the 1980 presidential campaign Reagan was the only candidate to make "a very strong statement supporting predominantly black" colleges and as president had "issued a very strong executive order to require all federal agencies" to help them.

Lyndon Johnson was the last president to visit Howard, giving a commencement address in 1965 in which he called for affirmative action programs.