Two college student lobbying groups are setting up political action committees to provide manpower to selected congressional candidates and try to boost the voting records of the nation's 12 million college students.

Officials of the United States Student Association already have registered an independent National Student PAC (N-SPAC) with the Federal Election Commission. Members of the National Coalition of Independent College and University Students (known by an old acronym, COPUS) recently announced that they would start a PAC, too.

Neither group has illusions it can raise cash for its focal point, backing candidates who defend federal assistance to college students. "We don't have the money, but we do have lots of time and energy," COPUS director Miriam Rosenberg said.

Rep. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), chairman of the House postsecondary education subcommittee, and Sen. Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.), chairman of the Senate education subcommittee, attended the COPUS press conference and were quick to acknowledge that they need student votes to win their reelection fights.

Simon, whose district includes Southern Illinois University, said he wouldn't have won a close race in 1980 without student support. And Stafford added that he needs student support this fall or "I may not be here."

Both noted that college students traditionally have low registration and voter turnout rates. Rosenberg and Ed Hanley, USSA's legislative director, said they think the Reagan administration's proposed budget cuts in student aid have made students more politically aware. They already have organized letter-writing campaigns and rallies to oppose the cuts.

Hanley said N-SPAC was registered with the FEC because it plans to target about 10 congressional races and offer in-kind services to endorsed candidates. Joe Sweeney, treasurer of the PAC, said Simon and Stafford have earned his committee's support.

The group will be out to defeat some candidates, too. Sweeney declined to identify the targets except to say they will be knows as GSLs, a play on guaranteed student loans that stands for "guaranteed student losers."

Rosenberg said her group's political action committee doesn't plan to file reports with the FEC because it doesn't plan to raise or spend more than $1,000, the threshold requiring registration. It will concentrate on getting students to register and work as volunteers in campaigns.

She said the two student PACs would complement each other rather than compete. COPUS represents private schools while most USSA members are public schools. Rosenberg said her political action committee doesn't plan any negative campaigning and will let local chapters pick which candidates to support.