Maryland Higher Education Secretary Shaila Aery is proposing a new brand of state scholarships to cover college expenses for undergraduates below the poverty line, as part of an effort to provide more financial help to the state's neediest students.

In a plan to be presented today to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, Aery recommends abolishing the state's main form of financial aid and replacing it with "Free State" grants meant to make college affordable for low-income residents, who are underrepresented at the state's universities.

The plan would shift subsidies toward minority, economically disadvantaged and part-time students. A reduced share would go to students at higher-priced private colleges, who now get a disproportionate amount of the state's $24 million in scholarship funds.

"This is my best shot at addressing the future needs of the state," Aery said of the 12-page plan that would require the approval of the commission and of the Maryland General Assembly. "We have to do something to get more people educated and working."

The study, finished 13 months after its original deadline, does not explicitly call for the elimination of legislative scholarships, a unique, much-criticized system in which Maryland senators and delegates disburse money directly to constituents.

But the report suggests that the $8 million in legislative scholarships could be used to help pay for the proposed programs. It says the new scholarships would be more equitable.

An analysis last year by The Washington Post found that Maryland senators and delegates gave nearly $1 million a year to students who, under state and national guidelines, did not need financial help. At the same time, almost 3,000 scholarship applicants qualified for awards, but were turned down by the state.

Aery said she was mindful that legislators have balked repeatedly at attempts to eliminate their scholarships. "My goal is to try to get the Free State {program} and not kill it over a discussion of legislative scholarships," she said.

The Free State program, proposed to start in the 1996 fiscal year, also would pay up to 40 percent of the college expenses of students above the poverty line -- 10 percent more than the state's main aid program, General State scholarships, currently does.

Aery's report recommends other changes as of 1993:

A new scholarship for part-time students, who account for more than half of Maryland's undergraduates but are not eligible now for any of the state's financial aid.

"College Savings Bonds," intended as an incentive to middle-income families to set aside money for college. The program would be similar to proposals defeated recently by the General Assembly.

A Math and Science Student Corps of 200 students a year who graduate with bachelor's degrees in math or science. The program would forgive $2,000 of their college loans in an attempt to increase the supply of Maryland residents with scientific training.

A Public Service Partnership program that would reimburse $1,000 of tuition for up to 100 students who do volunteer work in low-income or environmentally damaged parts of the state.

By 1996, Aery's plan would cost about $14 million more than the existing financial aid programs. Yesterday, she acknowledged that legislators may be skittish about such an increase in light of the state's projected $150 million deficit.

"In today's budget world, I don't know," she said, adding that she wanted the 1991 General Assembly at least to approve the new scholarships in principle.