Women now make up 60 percent of all journalism students in the country and may soon outnumber men in communications, according to a University of Maryland study whose authors expressed fears that the shift will lower the pay and the prestige of the field in comparison to male-dominated fields.

"Journalism and related professional fields are becoming principally female, with a danger that they will become 'pink-collar ghettos' offering lower salaries and status," a summary of the study said.

University officials released the report yesterday during a news conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, where they also announced plans to make Maryland's college of journalism "one of America's two or three best by 1990."

Officials said they will raise admissions standards and pump an additional $2 million over the next five years into the college of journalism, which has a $1 million annual budget. The school, on the university's College Park campus, now has a 69 percent female enrollment.

Authors of the report cited other studies showing that women now are about 30 percent to 40 percent of the employes in newsrooms across the country.

The study said women who enter the profession still are restrained by "vestiges of blatant discrimination," assumptions about what is appropriate work for them, career interruptions for family reasons, and a "shortage of role models," among other things.

Judith Paterson, one of the authors of the study, which was funded by the Gannett Foundation, said women still are being guided into journalism, education and English programs because of the belief that "women and girls are always good at language-related things."

A spokesman for the American Newspaper Publishers Association took issue with the suggestion that journalists' pay would be affected by their gender.

"There's a lot of recognition in the newspaper business that people should be paid for the work they do without regard to sex," said Robert L. Burke, vice president for industry and public affairs of the publishers group.

"Just because a reporter or an editor is a woman certainly would not suggest by itself that that person is likely to be paid less."

Burke said that this issue is one to which top editors are particularly sensitive.

The University of Maryland report includes a history of women in journalism and journalism teaching. It also contains surveys of alumni of the University of Maryland, employers of alumni and students.

Among the study's observations:

* Women have more career interruptions than men (58 percent to 42 percent among Maryland journalism alumni) and generally lose ground as a result, whereas men tend to gain ground after career interruptions.

* Male graduates at newspapers and wire services outnumber women female graduates 2 to 1, while female graduates outnumber male graduates on magazines and newsletters 2 to 1.

* As women become "the new majority," the nature of the news may change from a skeptical or "watchdog" approach stressing "conflict and controversy" to a softer approach that features "harmony and community."

Burke, while noting that he had not seen the Maryland study, challenged its suggestion that any increase in the numbers of women automatically would shift the focus of newspapers away from so-called "hard news" stories.

The way in which a story may be approached depends more on the individual reporter's talents and inclinations than on sex, Burke suggested.

"I think it's a presumption that just because a story is covered by a woman it would be handled substantially differently from the way a male would handle it," he said during a brief interview.

He said newspaper content depends upon readers' needs and interests, and there is "overwhelming evidence that readers are interested in what journalists call 'hard news.' "

While cautioning that he, too, had not seen the study, the president of an editors' group was highly skeptical of its inferences.

"I would have trouble coming to the same conclusions," said Michael J. Davies of the Associated Press Managing Editors.

"I don't know of papers which pay women less than men" for comparable work, Davies said. He also expressed strong doubt that an increasing number of women in newsrooms would lead to"softer" reporting.

Maurine Beasley, who directed the study, written with Paterson and Kathryn Theus, said women should not predominate in communications.

"I don't think we want to get any business as important as communications limited to a particular segment of the population," she said. "We want a lot of viewpoints to reflect the proportions of men and women in the population."

In a separate announcement on improving the college of journalism, the university's chancellor, John Slaughter, said the $2 million increase will be used to hire eight new teachers and buy state-of-the-art newspaper and broadcast equipment.