Virginia Gov. Mills E. Godwin yesterday assailed federal guidelines for college desegregation in the state, charging they would "reduce higher education in Virginia to a federal numbers game.

Responding to a five-year desegregation plan announced Tuesday by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Godwin declared that, pending a review of the federal guidelines, Virginia will continue to operate under a 1974 desegregation plan.

That plan, initially approved under HEW, was later disapproved under pressure of a lawsuit by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

"I am at a loss to understand why the Virginia plan of 1974, which HEW earlier deemed acceptable and until recently had not been questioned, is now judged to be inadequate to such a degree that quotas or 'numerical goals' should be required," the governor said.

The HEW guidelines came in response to an ongoing Legal Defense Fund lawsuit, charging HEW with failure to enforce desegregation laws in the state college systems of Virginia, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Essentially, the guidelines require the states to increase the numbers of blacks enrolled at predominantly white colleges and the numbers of whites at predominantly black colleges and to set forth numerical goals and timetables for doing so. They require the elimination of the vestiges of state-sanctioned segregation to be eliminated within five years.

In announcing the guidelines, HEW was careful to say that it was proposing numerical goals, not quotaa, but an aide in Godwin's office said. "When you say numerical goals, that spells quotas to the governor."

The new regulations require states to submit desegregation plans to HEW for approval and they provide for federal monitoring, but Godwin said he would confer with "appropriate officials" before acting. States that fail to draft HEW-approved desegregation plans face the possible loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal higher-education aid.

In the meantime, he said, Virginia will operate under its 1974 desegregation plan. That plan, Godwin said, reflects the principles of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in higher education to which "Virginia has been, is now and will continue to be committed."

According to officials of the State Council for Higher Education, there has been gradual progress in enrolling blacks at white colleges and whites at black colleges, but "there hasn't been any great migration."

Of the 92,500 students enrolled in the 14 state colleges in Virginia about 15,700, or 17 per cent are black. However, the vast majority of the black college students, 10,590, are enrolled at the state's two predominantly blacks colleges, Norfolk State in Norfolk, or Virginia State in Petersburg.

Of the 10,500 undergraduates at the University of Virginia, the capstone of the state college system, about 500, or less than 5 per cent are black. Norfolk State, with 6,490 blacks, has an enrollment of about 200 whites, while Virginia State had 175 whites and 4,100 blacks in its student body.

Originally, the Maryland state colleges were part of the lawsuit, but they have since become involved in separate litigation. Two years ago, HEW declared Maryland's desegregation plan unacceptable, but the state went to federal court and won a reversal of that decision at the trial level. The federal government is currently appealing.