A detailed and thoughtful piece by two scholars at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York suggests one way to improve the mediocre reputation of two-year community colleges: Allow them to grant four-year bachelor degrees.

It is not as odd as it sounds. Just because community colleges — which, at the moment, have nearly half of the nation’s college students — are designed as a halfway house to four-year schools doesn’t mean they couldn’t give out BAs in some subjects. In a few cases, it is already being done.

Paul Attewell and Robin Isserles, writing in a collection of essays on community colleges published by their university, say such a development would be in line with history. “For over a century,” they write, “institutions of higher education have expanded their missions to incorporate more advanced degree programs.” Early in the last century, “normal schools” designed to train teachers grew into full-service state colleges. State colleges developed graduate programs and became state universities.

The public education system is under severe strain, with motivated students often rejected for admission or denied space in courses they need. Granting BAs won’t relieve the similar pressures on community colleges, but some fresh thinking is necessary. If public colleges continue the way they are going, the for-profit schools are going to gain many more students, which is something that many of us find disquieting.

So, can you see a benefit from letting community colleges give BAs? If not, how do we get out of this mess?