The Howard County Community College is considering housing a 120-bed nursing home on its campus in Columbia, the first effort in Maryland to provide care for the elderly, mentally retarded adults and AIDS patients in a college setting, school and state officials said yesterday.

The $5 million project, which would be built on seven acres adjacent to the Howard County General Hospital, would allow the college's students to use the nursing home for on-the-job training. The facility also would serve as research center on geriatric care, according to a proposal.

The project is the brainchild of Paul A. Kerschner, president of the National Foundation of Long Term Health Care, and Tom Jazwiecki, director of reimbursement and financing with the American Health Care Association. The proposal, which Jazwiecki said was in the "preliminary talking stages," will be unveiled Monday at a special meeting of the college's trustees.

Jazwiecki said Columbia, wedged between Baltimore and Washington, is a good location for the new concept. "It's a recognized major area between two large metropolitan market areas with large elderly populations."

In addition, Jazwiecki said Columbia is close to some of the major national medical research facilities, such as Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda.

"Now is the time to plan rather than react to a crisis situation," he said. "This proposal will allow us to take a front seat."

Jazwiecki said he and his partner had been "working behind the scenes" on the project for several months. Some county and state health officials have been briefed on the proposal, he said. A spokesman with Howard County General Hospital said hospital officials were aware of the "conceptual plans," but had no comment on the proposal.

But one county official said the facility would be a welcome addition in Howard.

"Any additional beds are sorely needed especially if they accept low-income and Medicaid" patients, said Vivian Reid, director of the county Office of Aging. The county now has two nursing homes that have a total of 310 beds, she said.

More health care facilities will be needed to meet the growing elderly population, Reid said. Howard planners predict the county's elderly population, those 60 and older, will almost double by the year 2000, from 14,000 to 23,400 residents.

Jacwiecki said he and Kershner are exploring financing options.