We agree with Robert Samuelson's observation in his "Attacking Mass Mediocrity" {Sept. 30} that reform in education is moving in the right direction with, as he says, standards raised and requirements toughened along with higher pay for teachers.

We must question, however, some of his other conclusions and recommendations.

First, although he insists otherwise, he calls for a change in public attitudes that would support an elitism in American education that is alien to its history and its objectives. From its beginning, education in our nation has been regarded as a necessity to the preservation of our democracy and has been expanded to better inform our electorate. Our obligations are to reach more students with the most effective means attainable.

Mr. Samuelson's recommendation to close "15 to 20 percent of our universities, colleges and community colleges," if adopted, would deprive that percentage of our student population the opportunity of an education beyond high school. Which schools would close? Which students would be denied the opportunities of higher education? Who would identify those lucky Americans who would be privileged to go beyond high school? Who would lock the doors of doomed institutions? And why 15 or 20 percent? If it is good to close 20 percent of our universities would the elimination of 25 percent be even better?

The size and number of our collegiate institutions, public and private, small and large, are determined generally by the nation's needs, by the services demanded by respective clienteles. They have not been installed arbitrarily or speculatively. Totally different from the elitist cluster of institutions with standardized qualifications and federal control of academic requirements, as advocated by Mr. Samuelson, American colleges currently are strong because of their diversity and their variety of services and missions.

Closing colleges and universities or restricting enrollments and needed assistance cannot improve education. The urgent problems in our society demand the widest possible expansion of opportunity for the American population to learn.

ALLAN W. OSTAR President, American Association Of State Colleges and Universities Washington