FOR A DECADE Maryland state education officials have searched for a way to reverse the steady decline of the Eastern Shore campus of the University of Maryland. Desegregation has sharply reduced the number of black students applying to the college, once one of the state's officially sanctioned colleges for blacks. The college's low academic standards and physical isolation have discouraged many white students from applying. The ideal solution has long been obvious: Improve the college's academic quality and enroll more white students. But that proved impossible to achieve during the period of steady growth for all the university's campuses except the Eastern Shore campus. Recently, however, University President John S. Toll presented a plan to the Maryland Board of Higher Education that would benefit both the Eastern Shore campus and the rest of the university.

The Toll Plan commits the university to improving the Eastern Shore campus in specific ways: by adding new academic programs, by expanding the graduate shcool and by building new facilities. It also maintains the college's commitment to enrolling black students from nearby Eastern Shore communities. Most important, it sets up a rigorous, selective undergraduate honors program that would ensure those completing it of entrance into one of the university's graduate professional schools.

This idea (similar to a program Dr. Toll developed at the State University of New York at Stony Brook while he was president there) is deft. In these days of increased competition for professional schools, such a program is bound to attract more students, including white students. It should also attract the interest of the university's senior faculty, who will be teaching these students as undergraduates and graduates.It should improve the college's academic quality across the board. And, finally, because it is aimed generally at enrolling more students, the Toll Plan will aid the efforts of the state education board to relieve overcrowding at College Park by attracting students to the university's other campuses.

Revitalizing the Eastern Shore campus, even under this imaginative plan, promises to be exceedingly difficult. University officials must see to it that the special-honors program does not become simply an elite enclave instead of a stimulus to higher academic quality for the entire college. Even so, it is well worth trying. The experience and attention to detail that went into this plan - plus Dr. Toll's personal commitment - are good omens for ultimate success.