THE UNIVERSITY of the District of Columbia's "master plan" -- an outline of just what the school intends to do in the coming years -- is only a Senate subcommittee away from congressional approval. Prepared with the help of trustees, administrators, faculty and students, the document also offers a careful review of the merger of the schools that became one university: Federal City College, Washington Technical Institute and D.C. Teacher's College. Overlapping courses have been eliminated, for example, as have teaching and administrative duplication. Estimates of student enrollment have been carefully itemize requirements for degree (four-year) and certificate (two-year) programs have been provided. Special courses to prepare all incoming freshmen for college-level work have been set out; "honors" courses have been established.

As a result of a congressional agreement, all that is required is concurrence of both the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on the District. The House subcommittee has already given its goahead. But Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate subcommittee, has asked UDC officials to provide more information on a specific portion of the plan -- the proposal for a downtown campus on Mt. Vernon Square. Earlier this year, Sen. Leahy questioned whether both the cost of the campus and the estimate of the number of new students were set too high and asked that the subcommittee be given a clearer understanding of whether the campus was actually needed.

UDC has provided a persuasive case for the downtown campus -- a case that rests heavily on the particular needs of a university whose mission is to prepare students with different backgrounds and educational achievement for careers in government and private business, or for further study. That is a proper role for the city's only public university. But it is also a role that argues for a larger physical plant than, say, a private university with narrower objectives. True, an expanded campus on Mt. Vernon Square -- for which the city has already purchased the land -- will not be cheap. But the cost is well worth Sen. Leahy's support.