Blacks registered dramatic gains in college and university enrollment during the '60s and early '70s, reaching an important threshold in 1975 as 32 percent of all blacks between the ages of 18 and 24 went to college. The percentages have been falling ever since for both blacks and Hispanics. Between 1975 and 1981, for instance, the percentage of blacks going to college fell 11 percent -- even though there was an increase in the number of black high school graduates. The percentage of college-age Hispanics going to college fell by 18 percent during the same period.

Part of this can be explained by the high proportion of minority families hit hard by recession. Those families were also hurt in the federal shift from grants, once 80 percent of all financial aide, to loans, which now equal 52 percent of all federal aid. More aid is now also available to middle-income families, and the increase in aid has not kept pace with rising tuitions. The Reagan administration's plan to place a $4,000 cap on federal aid per student will dampen the prospects of some. But not all of the blame lies here.

National policy decisions do not explain, for instance, why some black and Hispanic teen-agers believe that there is no scholarship money to be had, when, by one estimate, there was about $15 billion in financial aid and grants available this year from local, state, federal and private sources. They do not explain why some students feel they will not get accepted by a college if they do not know exactly what careers they want to follow as adults. They do not explain why black and hispanics are allowed to think that earning a college degree is no longer important or why more than 20 percent of the black male students who were college sophomores in 1980 dropped out of college and never returned. Some of the blame lies with local school districts, organizations that act as advocacy groups for blacks and other minorities, and local communities.

In Cleveland, a scholarship program, financed entirely by private sources, sends people into the city's schools to help tell students about the possibilities of college and gives some students up to $2,000 a year. At Cardozo High School in the District, the principal gave all seniors the assignment of getting a college application and filling it out. The result was that 70 percent of the seniors applied for college instead of the usual 40 percent. More aggressive work by the District schools helped find $1.3 million in financial aid for graduating seniors this past year, up from $400,000 three years ago.

Efforts such as these will help send more minority students to college. Simply blaming government in particular or society in general will not.