The D.C. City Council, concerned about high costs at the University of the District of Columbia, is moving to cut 21 nonteaching jobs from the university's proposed $68.1 million budget for next year.

The action, approved last week by the council's education committee, is part of a broader council effort to reduce administrative expenses at the city-run college. A committee report, which the full council is expected to approve, calls on the university to equalize the workload of its faculty, consolidate duplicate programs and gradually raise tuition.

UDC must "take steps to reduce its disproportionate administrative costs," declared council member Betty Ann Kane, who has led the push for the cutbacks. "Enrollment has steadily declined at the university . . . but no discernible effort has been made to consolidate programs . . . held over from the university's predecessor institutions."

"We're paying a tremendous amount of money for the university per pupil and we really have to start seeing some results," said Kane, who has led the push for the cutbacks. "Their overhead costs and administration are far too high. They were formed by three institutions quite a long time ago and they still haven't consolidated."

The low-tuition, open-admissions university was formed in 1977 by a merger of three city colleges -- Federal City College, D.C. Teachers College and Washington Technical Institute.

According to data for 1983 submitted by UDC, 18.7 percent of its budget goes to institutional support or administration, compared with an average of 9.5 percent for colleges with similar spending levels nationwide. The council committee asked UDC to adopt a plan to reduce its administrative costs to 9.5 percent of its budget by fiscal 1988.

The cost per student at UDC last year -- $8,562 -- was higher than average public college cost for any state except Alaska, according to the National Institute of Education.

Dwight S. Cropp, UDC vice president for resource development and management, said the university was "disappointed" by the committee action but would not try to have it overturned when the full council takes up the budget on March 19.

"Their action was based on the information that we provided to them," Cropp said, "and they have been reasonable in providing us with time to make the cuts ."

When the university was formed, Cropp said, "there were three administrative structures . . . . It was understood at the time that it would take a decade or so for . . . there to be a complete consolidation.

"There has been a decline in the number of positions," Cropp added, "but evidently it's not been rapid enough for some folks."

Since 1977, the university has reduced its employment by 55 faculty members and 92 nonfaculty, Cropp said, a total reduction of about 10 percent. However, full-time-equivalent enrollment has dropped by 22 percent since just before the merger.

Last fall, 12,832 students attended UDC. But because about two-thirds of them went part time, the college had a full-time-equivalent enrollment of 7,827.

With tuition revenue, federal aid and funds from other D.C. agencies, UDC is spending $80.4 million this year. The college has about 560 full-time faculty members and about 1,000 other employes.

The education committee report, adopted by a 3-to-1 vote last Monday, trims $808,000 from the $4.5 million increase in District appropriations for UDC proposed by Mayor Marion Barry. Council staff members said it was the first time that the committee has made a substantial cut in the mayor's request. Even so, the city appropriation for UDC would rise by 5.9 percent next year.

According to researcher D. Kent Halstead of the National Institute of Education, the cost per student at UDC is about 75 percent higher than the average for public colleges. Tuition, currently $462 a year for D.C. residents, covers just 8 percent of costs, compared with an average 20 percent at all public colleges.

Halstead said UDC's high costs probably reflect high staffing levels, high salaries and small classes, and is "just astronomical from an efficiency standpoint."

In the comparisons of different states, Halstead said Alaska ranked number one -- at $13,257 per student -- because of its exceptionally high living costs and the small size of its schools.

Halstead said UDC's open admissions policy and high dropout rate contribute to its high costs. About 90 percent of incoming students are assigned to remedial courses in English or mathematics, which require small classes.

Overall, about 20 percent of the sections at UDC this spring have fewer than seven students, according to data given by the university to the City Council, most of them junior- and senior-level courses.

Because the number of instructors in different fields has not changed to reflect enrollment, the ratio of students to faculty varies from 6.5:1 in education to greater than 16:1 in business and engineering. The committee report directs the university to develop a faculty "reallocation plan" and submit it to the council with next year's budget. It also asks for a five-to-10-year plan to raise tuition so that UDC's subsidy can be cut to the national average.