DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Drake University will drop its football program next year, then scale back from NCAA Division 1-AA to Division III effective in the fall of 1987, President Michael Ferrari announced today.

Ferrari said he took the action because of difficulty in supporting the program at its present level, and because of declining enrollment at the private, four-year university.

Ferrari said the decision was consistent with his theme of ''selective excellence'' at the university. ''We cannot be all things to all people,'' he said.

He said to continue the program at Division 1-AA would require a subsidy of approximately $900,000.

Drake has competed in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Ferrari said his decision was consistent with programs at other schools of Drake's size. ''Division III football will work at Drake,'' he said.

By dropping the program for a year, Ferrari said current players can transfer to other schools immediately and play next year. Had the phase-in to Division III occurred next year, he said, those players would have had to sit out a semester under NCAA rules.

Ferrari had been studying a recommendation that the school drop football to save money.

Chuck Shelton, who just finished his ninth season as the Bulldogs' coach, has said he wouldn't continue in that position if the school went to Division III.

Drake ended its season Saturday with a 45-15 loss to Tulsa. The Bulldogs were 4-7, the same record they had last year.

Drake has been playing football since 1893 and has a record of 402-394-27. But after recording four straight winning seasons from 1969-72, the Bulldogs have had only two since then - 8-3 in 1980 and 10-1 in 1981.

The football program loses money, but Shelton has disagreed with the way the university figures the losses.

He said Ferrari is using figures that include scholarships as a revenue loss. Under that system, football loses between $800,000 and $1 million a year. But if scholarships aren't counted, which Shelton said should be the case, the losses are between $100,000 and $300,000.

Shelton said football will lose only $60,000 this year because of lucrative payoffs for playing at Iowa and Iowa State.