Apr 7, 2007
Extension Seeks to Offset Shrinking Federal Funding

This is the second story in a series about the future of Extension.

Since its creation nearly a century ago, the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) has held the same guiding principle: a commitment to quality programming, backed by the best research available and delivered to have significant impact on local, regional and national needs.

The system’s guiding principle hasn’t changed in a century, and neither has its funding model. For a long time, it was a workable situation, but – especially in the last decade – the funding model has been stretched to its limits by increasing demands for information and programs without a concurrent increase in funding from the public sector. The guiding principle won’t change, but the funding model has to, according to a report that analyzed CES funding from 1970 to 2004.

“In an era where public financing for Extension is, at best, stagnant, while at the same time demands for service grow steadily, the CES must seek and develop new funding relationships if historic levels of service are to be maintained,” according to the report.

Released in January 2006, the report was written by a task force of Extension directors, administrators and USDA staff charged with reviewing CES funding changes and recommending actions that could be taken to maintain the quality of Extension programming in spite of those changes. The task force was appointed by the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), which governs CES on behalf of state land-grant institutions; and USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension System (CSREES), the federal partner in the CES framework.

The report was published to serve as a guide for state Extension systems. Most of its funding recommendations are being implemented, in one way or another, in different states. Some of the report’s recommendations went along with what was already happening in certain states, said Larry Cote, ECOP’s chair and director of West Virginia’s Cooperative Extension. Cote was a member of the task force that wrote the report.

“Most states have been quite entrepreneurial in obtaining funding from other sources,” he said.

Funding

Traditionally, CES programs have focused on the following areas: agriculture and forestry, natural and renewable resource development, 4-H youth development, healthy families, community and economic development. CES was meant to serve as a link between federal, state and local efforts in those areas. The system’s funding still comes from those three sources, but their portions of the pie have changed through the years, according to the report.

The federal government allocated $131.7 million to CES in 1970, the report’s starting point. In 2004, the federal portion was $439.1 million. Calculating for inflation, the federal funding rate in 2004 dollars was about $200 million less than it was in 1970, according to the report.

On top of that loss, CES is larger and more diverse than it was in 1970, increasing the need for funding. The system links CSREES, 104 educational institutions and approximately 3,150 county administrative units, according to the report.

“The clientele that land-grant universities serve has changed as rapidly as it has grown,” according to the report. “Extension is now one information source among many, leaving citizens to wonder which venue provides the most reliable information.”

Shrinking federal funds have forced states to reorganize their programs or eliminate them altogether. They’ve also forced Extension directors to look elsewhere for funding.

State and local governments are being asked to contribute even more to the CES partnership. A majority of states have increased their Extension funding by 30 percent or more. A few states have more than doubled their commitments. In states where budgets have grown tight, institutions have looked to local governments for more Extension funding, according to the report.

In 1972, federal, state and local contributions to Extension were 41 percent, 40 percent and 18 percent respectively. In 2003, 1862 institutions (the original land-grant universities) reported that 17 percent of their budgets were from federal sources, 40 percent from states, 22 percent from local contributions, 17 percent from grants and gifts and 3.6 percent from user fees, according to the report.

The primacy of state and local funding has decentralized Extension’s reach.

“When state and local funding sources grow in importance, directors and administrators must pay more attention to the priorities of these government entities,” the report said. “As a result, the CES becomes more focused on local issues and less of a balanced, nationwide system.

“Without additional federal dollars, the allocation of additional resources to national-level priorities will be increasingly difficult for Extension directors and administrators to manage.”

Extension directors have been exploring other sources of non-federal funding, including grants and contracts. On a nationwide average in 2003, grant-based funding equaled federal funding for 1862 institutions. The amount varied from state to state. Institutions in South Carolina, New Mexico and Vermont received more than 30 percent of their Extension budgets from grants and gifts, but they made up less than 10 percent of the budgets in Ohio, Wyoming and Oklahoma, according to the report.

“While competitive, grant-based funding has significant merits, a net effect of these inter-related trends is significant erosion of the basic national infrastructure of Extension educators, state specialists and county agents,” according to the report. “All effective Extension learning requires a basic human infrastructure, and without sustained public resources, the local reach of Extension can be severely curtailed or impaired.”

In many states, public groups have mobilized to raise private funds to support popular Extension programs. Nonprofit groups end up managing programs that have been cut, or create new programs with private funds, for example. The report said CES must fully utilize private assistance, but also must avoid any conflicts of interest it might bring about.

A significant number of land-grant universities now have full-time fundraising services, which wasn’t the case a few years ago, Cote said.

Delivery

“The past 35 years have seen a remarkable change in the way Extension programs are delivered,” according to the report. “While the on-site visit and the field day are still core elements of Extension agriculture and natural resources programs, new techniques are rapidly overtaking the more traditional methods. Extension now makes ready use of online publications, toll-free numbers and other diverse electronic media. Most state CES organizations maintain an extensive Web site covering all aspects of the state program.”

Extension’s program delivery is being challenged by the rapid development of a private market for traditional Extension information. For example, there are 12,705 crop advisers certified through the American Society of Agronomy, representing about half the crop consultants working in the United States. Of those, only 271 identify themselves as Extension employees. Seed and chemical companies hire their own crop advisers to provide technical advice to farmers, according to the report.

“In many cases, these professionals were trained at land-grant universities in Extension techniques and make use of Extension publications and information to serve their clients,” the report said.

Many land-grant universities find it difficult to attract and retain top Extension educators from the private market due to their inability to offer competitive salaries. Also, education and certification requirements for CES employees have increased dramatically, making fully trained personnel extremely valuable. Policies need to be developed to retain these employees, according to the report.

The growth of Extension-related industries makes it clear the public is willing to pay additional fees for the expertise and research generated at land-grant universities and delivered by CES. The system must find ways to utilize that income to support Extension programming, according to the report.

Recommendations

The report had several recommendations for improving CES funding and making it more consistent:

Develop an understanding with federal and state agencies to broaden the constituency for Extension. Many organizations involved in issues like health care and nutrition do not know about the CES network and don’t utilize it as a resource.

Extension programs should not be privatized because of the unique public partnership that undergirds them. A privatized program severs its link with the land-grant system and can no longer be considered an Extension program. However, specific Extension activities can be privatized under certain conditions.

State Extension organizations should take an active role in coordinating all private fundraising and program operations related to their states. Organizations should add a professional fundraising/development unit if they don’t already have one.

Charging fees for CES programs is appropriate in many circumstances. When fees are collected in excess of program costs, the surplus should be invested back into the program. A fee structure should be considered for certain publications and intellectual properties. CSREES should review policies to allow maximum flexibility for fee generation within the law.

CSREES should develop grant-writing workshops specifically targeted to the Extension community to maximize the integration of research, Extension and education functions.

CES organizations should continue to develop faculty evaluation and accountability mechanisms that include evaluating a faculty member’s ability to generate external support for Extension.

Look in January’s issue of The Fruit Growers News for information on North Carolina’s Extension programs.





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