On a recent Saturday morning, a group of 60 Fairfax County teachers bustled into a heatless classroom at Fairfax High School, armed with thermoses and little snacks, to begin a course that would help them obtain master's degrees in education and, as a result, higher salaries.

The course, School Community Relations, would be completed in three weekends, just like all the courses the teachers are taking for their degree. The degree, when they get it, will come from St. Thomas College in St. Paul, Minn. - a school that most of the teachers will never see.

St. Thomas is one of a growing number of out-of-state schools that have come to the Washington area in recent years - campusless and from several hundred miles away - to lap what many educators consider to be a lucrative market for the adult student.

The market is rich here, the educators say, because so many residents are well-paid teachers, government workers and military personnel. A higher degree can mean higher salaries for them and the cost of the extra courses is often paid by taxpayers.

But the somewhat unconventional manner in which many of these out-of-state schools operate has spawned skepticism among local school officials about the degrees being granted.

In the 1975-76 school year there were 27 out-of-state institutions operating in Virginia - 18 in Northern Virginia - total enrollment of 31,000 for the courses offered. As of last fall there were 16 such institutions operating in Maryland with an estimated 5,000 students enrolled. The 11 out-of-state schools licensed to operate in the District of Columbia had an estimated total enrollment of 900.

Education officials in all three jurisdictions said there are probably many more out-of-state schools operating here without their knowledge.

Washington area residents can take a wide range of courses from such institutions as LaVerne College of LaVerne, Calif: Mountain College of Billings Mont: Nova University of Fort Landerdale, Fla., and Upper Iowa University of Fayette, Iowa, without ever leaving the Washington area.

One local degree holder from Nova University is James Baldwin, director of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, who participated in a three-year on-the-job doctoral program offered by Nova. A former employee of Baldwin has said that on about a half dozen occasions he prepared homework assignments for Baldwin as part of Baldwin's work toward the doctorate. In addition, a professor at [WORD ILLEGIBLE] College here has charged that a paper Baldwin submitted as part of his degree requirements is a copy of a study Baldwin hired the professor to prepare.

Typically, the out-of-state schools operate by renting a suite in a local hotel - in the case of Nova it was a church basement - to serve as a classroom. The schools offer degrees and courses they fell certain will attract area residents - ranging from master's degrees in public administration and education to courses in transactional analysis and transcendental meditation. They then often hire local residents as teachers.

Local college officials said they are concerned that these out-of-state schools are cutting into their turf. But, like many educators across the nation who see the concept of a "university without walls" catching on, the officials said they also fear that some students are being short-changed by schools that are more interested in selling diplomas than offering an education.

Deans of the out-of-state schools insist they are providing a service to local students by offering them the kinds of degree programs they want as students - and by holding classes at hours convenient to the adult, working student. They say the "university without walls" is the way of the future - and a means of survival for financially strapped schools.

"We are identifying the needs of education which exist out there . . . instead of saying to a student here is a group of courses, take them or leave them, we are willing to design a curriculum that the students want, then bring it to them," explained Dr. Paul Motzkus, dean of field studies for LaVerne College, one of the first schools from outside the Washington area to begin offering courses locally.

LaVerne now has an enrollment of 1,035 students on its home campus, while an estimated 20,000 students take courses the school offers off campus.

Motzkus and officials from the other out-of-state schools operating here said profit was not a major motivating factor when they decided to branch out into other parts of the country. But they also conceded that the dwindling number of 13-to-20-year-old students made it necessary for colleges to attract older students who are already working.

But Dean Brundage, administrator of the Northern Virginia Consortium for Continuing Education, said, "We are concerned about shortouts being taken . . . How can a course that world normally be covered over several weeks be completed in a few weekends? What kind of supervision can a college from halfway across the county be giving to courses they offer in the Washington area?"

One of the schools that has been criticized by local college deans is Rocky Mountain College, which offers staff development courses for Fairfax teachers. Teachers are reimbursed by the county for taking one of these courses a year, and once they have accumulated 15 credits from them, they are entitled to a salary increase of $500.

Rocky Mountain is not authorized by an academic accrediting agency to offer courses for graduate credit; it is strictly an undergraduate school. But according to James Taylor, the college's academic dean, Rocky Mountain is not doing anything unethical in offering what it terms "post-secondary" credit since its courses are not part of a graduate degree program.

But because this procedure is a gray area in educational practice, the teachers can - and on occasion do - succeed in getting graduate schools to accept his post-secondary credit as graduate credit toward a degree, Taylor said.

In the past, Rocky Mountain has offered such courses as "Fairfax County - A General History." "Transactional Analysis," and "Drug Education" to county teachers. The school holds many of these courses over weekends and hires local teachers - in many cases, Fairfax teachers - as instructors.

Taylor said the instructors are hired only after he has reviewed their employment and educational background and their proposed syllabus for a course. Each instructor is evaluated by the students and so is the course, he said.

William Willis, dean of the George Mason University graduate school, said the Rocky Mountain courses are not acceptable as graduate credit at that institution since they are not taught by Rocky Mountain faculty members and because Rocky Mountain does not offer graduate degrees.

"Whatever is a college from Billings, Mont., doing offering a course on Fairfax County history?" Willis asked.

The University of Virginia occasionally grants graduate credit for teacher development courses such as those taught by Rocky Mountain.

Willis recalled that a few years back many teachers had tried to transfer credits from the staff development course they had taken with LaVerne College toward a graduate degree in education at George Mason, but were turned down. The teachers, he said, soon grew angry with George Mason.

"I was so naive at that time, I thought all these Fairfax teachers had taken time off to go to LaVerne, Calif., to study. I had no idea these schools were operating on our doorstep," Willis said.

Local deans said they are especially concerned about the quality of the Rocky Mountain courses since Fairfax County pays for them. In the past year, Fairfax spent $202,500 on teacher development courses. But according to William Symons, who until recently headed the staff development office for county schools, only about $10,000 of that amount this year will go to Rocky Mountain. The rest will go to other schools, such as the University of Virginia and George Mason, which also offer courses for teachers.

According to Thomas Rich, of the Fairfax school planning office, who helped set up the Rocky Mountain and St. Thomas progams in Fairfax, teachers began looking to out-of-state schools to offer the staff development courses because of the "stodginess" they found at Virginia institutions.

Rich said he brought the county's business to Rocky Mountain since area institutions, such as George Mason University and the University of Virginia, would not give the courses to county teachers at a reduced rate. In addition, St. Thomas and Rocky Mountain were willing to let the teachers have a say in what courses they would take for either recertification or a master's degree.

According to Rich, the county is actually saving money by paying for the Rocky Mountain courses. Tuition for one of that school's courses is $65 while the fee for a comparable course at the University of Virginia is $81, he noted.

Several Fairfax teachers enrolled in the St. Thomas master's program said in interviews that they were pleased with the program mainly because courses are held on weekends and because they will be able to finish their master's program in 14 months, without having to take time off from work.

Roy Brooks Jr., a pyschology and history teacher at Robinson High School, said St. Thomas' program, at $1,660, will cost him less than the master's program offered at either the University of Virginia or George Mason.

Brooks added that he believed a master's degree in either psychology or history would be of more value than the master's he will get from St. Thomas. "But," he said, "I'll learn a bit about education and get a pay raise.

Teachers stand to get anywhere between $500 and $1,500 more a year for completing their master's, depending on the number of years teaching experience they have.

Some of the other out-of-state institutions operating in the Washington area have been attracting students by developing degree programs in completely new areas, or by offering courses tailored to the needs of a specific group of people at times that are convenient for the group.

[WORD ILLEGIBLE] Lindenwood Four.; a St. Charles, Mo., college that offers classes here, the students, not the professors, decide what courses will be required for a degree, as well as what readings and class projects will be necessary. The students also set their own deadlines.

The college, which operates out of 1735 Massachusetts Ave. NW, offers college credit for "life experience" so a student might only have to study one year instead of the traditional four years for a bachelor's degree, a school spokeswoman said.

Graduates of the Lindenwood Four program receive a degree in "Individual Studies."