As president of Montgomery College, I read with interest and concern the recent column by Robert J. Samuelson {"The College Charade," op-ed, June 13}.

Mr. Samuelson states that "the dropout rate appears to be even higher" at community colleges than at four-year colleges. The reality is that the definition of attrition, or "drop-out" rate, at community colleges is problematic. Community colleges debate constantly as to how they should measure student success. Our mission is to serve the diverse needs of the local community. Some students spend a successful semester or two, then transfer to four-year schools. Others take selected courses, then go into the work force. Still others are returning to acquire new or updated skills and already have associate or baccalaureate degrees. (The average student age at Montgomery College, for instance, is 29.) None of the groups mentioned will appear in graduation statistics, however. Are we to consider them failures?

It is true that many students entering from high school today have weak academic skills. The community colleges, charged with providing open access to higher education, have in place the developmental programs in English, reading and math that give such students an opportunity to correct past deficiencies. The reasons for lack of high school achievement are far more intricate than simple laziness or lack of motivation. Family upheaval, peer pressure, racism, illness, lack of maturity and a host of other subtle pressures can have an impact on adolescent achievement. Community colleges offer not lower standards, but a place to begin again. Should we deny financial aid to these students if they do not read at the 12th-grade level?

I must answer my own questions by stating that I think not. Our society is beset by numerous problems, many of them educational. I firmly believe that community colleges are part of the solution, rather than part of a "college charade." ROBERT E. PARILLA Rockville