President Carter is expected to name Barbara Newell, president of Wellesley College, as undersecretary of the Health, Education and Welfare Department, government sources said yesterday.

Newell, 49, has been head of Wellesley since 1972. She would succeed Hale Champion, who is resigning shortly to return to Harvard.

Undersecretary is the second highest ranking official of the biggest department in government. HEW spends about $200 billion annually.

Sources said there was strong sentiment for appointment of a woman to an agency that handles health, child welfare, Social Security and similar matters, and Newell was suggested by Secretary of HEW Joseph A. Califano Jr.

HEW had no comment on reports of Newell's impending appointment, but White House, Capitol Hill and other sources in HEW said the president had okayed the nomination. Associates of Newell in Massachusetts said she had been offered the job. She was not available for comment.

One HEW source said Califano had tried to get her for a high HEW position when he first became secretary three years ago but that didn't work out.

A graduate of Vassar, Newell got her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin where she later served in a variety of teaching and administrative posts.

She was a professor of economics at Purdue (1959-65) and acting vice president for student affairs at the University of Michigan, then a professor of economics and associate provost at the University of Pittsburgh before going to Wellesley in 1972.

According to Who's Who, she has written numerous articles and books on labor economics. She is indentified in Who's Who as a widow with one daughter.