With tens of thousands being turned away from state universities, California lawmakers likely will consider granting community colleges the right to offer a limited number of bachelor's degrees.

The shift, which has occurred in 17 other states in the past decade or so, would represent a major philosophical change in California, where the three state higher-education systems have clearly defined roles.

Solano Community College and Napa Valley College presidents said they need to study the proposal in greater depth before commenting, but added more funding would be needed to implement such a plan.

Solano Community College President Jowel Laguerre said it's not a new idea. "These movements often start when students cannot access the four-year institutions. It's getting more and more difficult for students to access the CSU and UC system," Laguerre added.

Napa Valley College Interim President Armond Phillips said it's questionable if community colleges can take on any more programs and still fulfill their mission.

Bachelor's and higher degrees are offered by University of California and California State University campuses; community colleges offer two-year associate degrees and certificates for a variety of professions.

However, major reforms must be considered in the age of severe budget problems, said Assemblyman Marty Block, D-San Diego, who raised the idea at a Dec. 7 hearing on the future of California's Master Plan for Higher Education.

Block said he

in considering community college baccalaureates after San Diego State recently closed admissions to local applicants.

"We have a lot of well-respected community colleges down in San Diego, and they think they could do a fine job offering those next two years to students, at least in certain disciplines," said Block, who is considering introducing a related bill early next year.

Florida has offered bachelor's degrees at community colleges since 2001, mostly to serve specific industries - such as nursing and teaching - and communities far from university campuses.

The four-year programs cost slightly more than the colleges' two-year programs, but are still significantly cheaper than university classes, said Kenneth Walker, president of Edison State College, which offers both two-year and four-year degrees.

State legislators agreed to the changes, in part, because Florida had a shortage of college-educated residents, said Walker, also president of the Community College Baccalaureate Association. California is facing a similar shortage, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

In California, such a proposal would face numerous obstacles, such as pricing and capacity. The 110-school community college system, with nearly 3 million students per year, already is overflowing, and its $26-per-unit fees likely would not be enough to pay for more advanced four-year programs.

Some experts warned that California should exhaust other options before expanding community colleges' mission, including opening more university branch campuses. Sarah Rohrs contributed to this report. Contact her at srohrs@timesheraldonline.com or (707) 553-6832