The Education Department on Tuesday backed away from a total ban on financial aid targeted for minorities. It said colleges and universities will be allowed to award scholarships based solely on race as long as federal funds are not used.

Assistant Secretary Michael Williams, who heads the department's Office of Civil Rights, announced a six-point policy regarding race-exclusive scholarships at a news conference Tuesday.Williams said the new policy should "prevent disruption to the efforts of colleges and universities to attract minorities to their campuses and to reassure students that no scholarships that have already been awarded . . . will be affected in any way."

Central to the policy is the Education Department's decision to let universities that receive federal funds administer scholarships funded by private persons or organizations where the donor restricts eligibility for the scholarships to minorities.

Under past administration policy, public and private universities could set aside public or private funds for scholarships targeted to minorities.

Under the new policy, schools will be able to offer only privately funded scholarships for minorities. However, most minority scholarship programs already are privately funded.