MARYLAND Higher Education Secretary Shaila Aery has put forth a promising plan that would shift a greater share of the state's college scholarship aid to the students who need it most. In recent years, Maryland, with the support of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, has pumped more resources into state scholarships. Unfortunately, that aid program is an unwieldy and archaic system that gives too much to those who have no real financial need and too little to poorer families that are struggling to afford tuition. That led one member of the state's Higher Education Commission to conclude last year that Maryland lacks a "true, financial need-based student aid program."

Mrs. Aery's proposal would create "Free State" scholarships for students whose families have incomes below the poverty line. Less money would go to students attending higher-priced private institutions who now receive a disproportionate share of the state's $25 million scholarship fund. The program would also pay up to 40 percent of collegiate expenses for students with incomes above the poverty line, and would extend financial aid to part-time students, who now account for more than half of Maryland's undergraduates.

Other parts of the new proposal include a Savings Bond program to allow middle-income families to set aside funds for college, a Math and Science Student Corps, which would forgive $2,000 in college loans to students who graduate with degrees in math or science. Public Service Partnerships would give a $1,000 tuition reimbursement to students who perform volunteer work in low-income or environmentally damaged parts of the state.

These plans would add about $14 million to the state scholarship program by 1996, at a time when Maryland has already begun to feel a budgetary squeeze. But there is one quick way to save or shift about $8 million. Maryland should follow the lead of other states by abolishing the legislative scholarships program, in which Maryland state senators and delegates give money directly to constituents. The legislative scholarships are little more than a patronage system. In one year, state legislators gave one-third of these funds to students who didn't need financial aid, and the money was handed out in amounts so small as to be almost meaningless in terms of tuition assistance.

In a tight budgetary climate, it is important that the state begin to focus on students who truly need financial help in order to obtain a college degree. The new scholarship plan represents a clear step in that direction.