The College Board has clarified information it supplied for a story yesterday on the number of colleges providing scholarships based partly on a student's race. There are 696 colleges that award minority scholarships without regard to need and 785 that award them based on need. A total of 1,070, or 37 percent of 2,918 accredited colleges that responded to the board's 1990 survey, provide minority scholarships that fall into at least one of those two categories. (Published 12/21/ 90)

A former head of the Education Department's civil rights office told Congress yesterday that the department's revised policy on minority scholarships is not legally binding on colleges because it has not been stated in formal regulations or upheld by an administrative law judge.

The scholarship restrictions announced Tuesday by Michael L. Williams, assistant secretary for civil rights, represent his "personal opinion," said David S. Tatel, who had the same job during the Carter administration.

Tatel, now a Washington lawyer, was one of a series of witnesses who criticized the department at House Education and Labor Committee hearings. Williams canceled a planned appearance before the panel.

On Tuesday Williams modified a near-ban on "race-exclusive" scholarships that he had announced last week, and said colleges can make such grants out of private funds earmarked for that purpose. But he also said private colleges could not use their own funds for such scholarships and that public colleges could not devote public funds to them. Williams announced a four-year "transition period" to allow time for colleges to adjust their scholarship programs and for students with race-based grants to complete degree programs. He also said his office will continue to investigate any complaints about race-based scholarships.

Yesterday a department spokesman said Williams "would be bound" to take enforcement action if an investigation found a college's scholarship program was racially discriminatory under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In his testimony, Tatel said Williams's "recent announcements do not bind recipients of federal funds. The fact is that the assistant secretary has absolutely no authority to bind any recipient of federal funds simply by issuing a press release."

Because Williams has not initiated "formal regulatory procedures" or an enforcement action upheld by an administrative law judge, Tatel said his six-point policy on scholarships "should be viewed as no more than his own personal opinion" or "law enforcement strategy." He later told reporters that colleges "don't have to go out and abolish their minority scholarship programs," but he did advise colleges to conduct legal reviews of them.

A department spokesman said Williams disagrees with Tatel and believes the scholarship policy to be legally binding without new regulations. "As far as his reading of existing law, no further action would be neccessary to enforce that law," the spokesman said.

The College Board yesterday released the first nationwide figures that suggest how many colleges provide scholarships based at least in part on a student's race.

At least 785 colleges offer such scholarships, according to responses to the board's 1990 survey of 3,138 accredited colleges. Jean Marzone, the board's director of information services, said 453 public colleges and 332 private colleges reported that "minority status" was a criterion for some scholarships. The survey did not gather similar information on white ethnic groups and did not ask about the number or value of minority scholarships.

Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins (D-Calif.), the committee's outgoing chairman, criticized Williams for not testifying after confirming Monday that he would appear. The cancellation, Hawkins said, was "an affront" to the committee.

A department spokesman said Williams decided not to testify because he wanted time to study legal cases and other material concerning the new scholarship policy.