THE GOOD NEWS for higher education in the city of Washington is now official: There is now, for the first time, a publicly supported university in town. The University of the District of Columbia came into being with the merger on Monday - on schedule - of the city's three public colleges: Federal City College, Washington Technical Institute and D.C. Teachers College. The three will be administered as one when classes start on Sept. 6.

The significance of the consolidation only begins with the increased economy and efficiency that are expected to result from such mundane matters as centralized budgeting and record-keeping. As the merger of the vocational and liberal-arts curricula takes place, students will be able to benefit from a wealth of talent that is now unevenly distributed among the three colleges; resources now available to only one or another of the colleges will be available to all three. In short, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts, and this should have significant effect on the ability of the whole - as a full-fledged university - to attract all those things that can make (or, in absence, break) a university: gifted faculty, skilled and experienced administrators, promising students and financial support.

Evidence of this, it seems to us, is already at hand in the appointment of UDC's first president, Lisle Carter, currently chancellor of the Atlanta University Center. Mr. Carter's skill in working with federal and local governments, his fund-raising ability and his experience at the Atlanta Center in meshing several colleges into one institution should serve the university and the city well.

There are undoubtedly some difficult days ahead for the university. Its budget is still wending its way through the congressional labyrinth. A master plan for development must be carried out to provide the necessary campus space. Merging the various and diverse academic and vocational programs into one curriculum will not be easy. These matters will require not just the full time and energy, but also the close collaboration, of Mr. Carter and the university's board of trustees in the coming months. We wish them well.