The proportion of black and Hispanic high school graduates entering college continues to decline, maintaining the trend that began a decade ago, according to a study released yesterday by the American Council on Education.

The share of 18- to 24-year-old black high school graduates entering college in 1985 -- the most recent figures available -- dropped to 26 percent from 34 percent in 1976, the report said. In 1981, 28 percent went on to college. During the 10-year period, the proportion of blacks in this age group graduating from high school increased from about 68 percent to 75.6 percent.

The trends were similar among Hispanics, the study said. At the same time more Hispanics were graduating from high school, the proportion entering college dropped from 36 percent in 1976 to 27 percent in 1985. In 1981, 29.8 percent of Hispanic high school graduates went to college.

The declining percentage entering college is partially explained by the increase in the Hispanic population age 18 to 24, from 1.6 million to 2.2 million during that period, the education group reported.

"The continued decline of blacks and Hispanics in proportional representation in collegiate student bodies is a crisis of substantial dimensions for American society," the report concluded.

The annual study, prepared by the Office of Minority Concerns of the American Council on Education, the largest organization of American colleges and universities, underscores trends that have caused deepening concern in education circles.

Despite impressive gains during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, college enrollment among black students turned down sharply from its peak in the mid-1970s.

Many educators blame the decline on the large shift in federal financial aid from grants to loans in recent years.

"This is a problem with potentially severe economic implications and devastating social consequences," said Cornell University President Frank H.T. Rhodes.

Black enrollment at the University of Maryland's College Park campus has increased nearly 18 percent since 1982. But Chancellor John B. Slaughter said the national numbers carry "very serious implications."

"What it means is we are creating fewer and fewer blacks who are prepared . . . . It will mean a further recession of the black community," he said.

The report also indicated that minority students are less likely to choose teaching as a profession than in the past. While education used to be the most popular field of study among minorities, it now places third after business and social sciences.

"Minorities are declining to a point they will be dramatically underrepresented" in teaching, said Reginald Wilson, an author of the report. At the same time, minority enrollment among elementary and high school students is increasing steadily.

Among students attending predominantly black institutions, education majors dropped from 13 percent in 1977 to 9 percent last year, the report said.

Authors of the study said current moves among states to increase teaching requirements, including the number of college years required to become a teacher, could drive more low-income minorities away from teaching as a field.

"The longer we're asking poor people to go to school, the less likely they'll choose that profession," Wilson said.

But Bruce M. Carnes, deputy undersecretary at the Education Department, dismissed that notion. "They're suggesting the problem is standards," he said. "I believe blacks are just as capable of meeting those standards as anyone else."

Carnes also argued that minority enrollment trends could be interpreted positively in light of minorities' rising high school graduation rates. "One reason the percentage of high school graduates {entering college} is going down is because we're able to graduate more and more from high school," he said. "Before, these kids were dropouts."