August 2009 Archives

Preface: The Minnesota Response




This book is about the Minnesota Extension 2004 response to the money and mission crisis that is facing many state Cooperative Extension Services. It is aimed primarily at people outside the state of Minnesota who are curious about whether this unique model is working. While many Minnesota Extension stakeholders will find the book interesting, some will find it old news. 

We started this book because we received so many questions from colleagues and Extension stakeholders in other states about the changes in Minnesota. Initially, the questions expressed deep concern that Minnesota had gone off the deep end. More recently, people are asking if the Minnesota model is working and if it would work in their state. Even though the new regional/county model appears to be working well in Minnesota, we understand the circumstances in each state are different. You will have to decide whether this model, or parts of it, would be useful and feasible in your state.

The Cooperative Extension System (or simply Extension) has a serious money and mission crisis. Nationally, the purchasing power of Extension funding from its three major public sources has fallen rapidly in recent decades. At the same time, many argue that Extension needs to reach out to new underserved audiences, develop new programs for existing audiences, and improve the effectiveness and quality of many of its programs. In almost every state, Extension is being squeezed by increasing expectations and falling purchasing power.

Faced with lower budgets, some Extension administrators argue that new communication and political methods should be used to secure more resources. This strategy is risky because if more resources are not secured, then there is less programming. If there is less programming, the public value of Extension declines, resulting in less public support. This approach might start a downward spiral.

Minnesota Extension, when faced with a 13 percent budget cut in 2004, was unwilling to accept a diminished future and adopted regionalization and specialization in order to find new ways to do business or ways to "do more with less."

Part I of the book documents the nature of the mission and money crisis in Extension nationally and explores the claim by economists that specialization increases productivity. In other words, specialization allows you to do more with fewer resources rather than having to work harder.

Part II of the book describes the seven major policies that define the Minnesota model. Although we call it the Minnesota regional/county model throughout the book, this is but one aspect of the complete set of policies. In addition to regionalization, there are changes in the funding of regional and county positions, the degree of focus and specialization, and the supervision of field staff by state specialists, the development of statewide programs and business plans, new scholarship and promotion expectations, and new roles for regional directors.

Part III of the book explores whether the Minnesota model is working. What is the evidence on how the Minnesota regional/county model has changed program quality, scholarship by educators, access to Extension, and public support? Two sets of survey results plus other data are used to explore these questions.

Every state has different jargon and terminology for Extension positions. The terms, Regional Extension Educator, program specialists, Extension field specialists, and Extension Educator in (name of the area of expertise) have all been used to describe very similar positions. Minnesota Extension changed the titles for some positions and structures in 2008. In this book, the original terms are used since the survey of field staff used these. For those interested in the new terms, see Appendix B. There is also a glossary for those unfamiliar with Extension jargon.

All of the authors of this book are either former senior administrators who helped design the Minnesota model or current staff. In Part II, these roles were valuable in helping us detail the nature of the model and the original rationale for it. In Part III, these roles had the potential of introducing considerable bias. For two reasons, I believe we have avoided this bias. First, as a professor for 28 years, I am more interested in contributing to the social science literature than simply selling the model. In this spirit, we point out both positive results and our mistakes. Obviously, we would focus only on the positive if this were simply a public relations effort. Second, in Part III, rather than offer only anecdotal data, we also present some systematic evidence on the impacts. On the other hand, we point out issues where we lacked sufficient data to draw firm conclusions and we suggest several areas of additional research.

It is both too early and too late for this book to come out. As a researcher, I would have liked to do some additional research on the impacts before publishing the book. In addition, some of these impacts will only be known in another 4 or 5 years. Yet, others are upset that we did not have the book out a year or two ago. Partially to accommodate this group, I chose to publish the book through a print on demand publisher because the time line was much shorter than traditional academic publishing houses. There are some potential tradeoffs in status and professional reward in doing this. However, as a professor emeritus, I am not too worried about the next promotion and I trust that if the book is valuable, it will be widely used. If not, trees will be saved!

This book is only the beginning of the research needed to explore the long-term impacts and viability of the Minnesota model and alternative types of regionalization and specialization. Maybe, if Extension learns to "do more with less," the public will see such a good return on their investment that they will invest more in the Cooperative Extension Service. 


George Morse

Professor Emeritus

Applied Economics

University of Minnesota


Contents of The Minnesota Response




List of Tables   xiii


Foreword by Michael V. Martin   xv


Preface   xvii


Acknowledgements   xxi




1.      Extension's Money and Mission Crisis   3

The Money Crisis

The Mission Crisis

Extension Program Participation

Doing More With Less


2.       Regional Specialization: A Solution?   15

Why Specialization?

Trends Affecting Specialization

Advantages of Extension Educator Specialization

Disadvantages of Specialization

History of Extension Field Specialization

Specialization Requires Regionalization





3.      Minnesota's Regional/County Model   47

Questions, Questions, Questions

New Minnesota Regional/County Model

Regional/County vs. County Cluster Models

Benefits of the Minnesota Model

Risks of the Minnesota Model

The Design Process for New Model

Summary and Future Research


4.      External Relations   71

The Case for an External Relations Strategy

Roles and Responsibilities to Make it Happen

Stakeholders:  Who They Were and Why They Mattered

Managing External Relations through Internal Relations

Media Relations:  A Means to an End

Timelines, Transparency, Tactics, and Tools

Summary and Future Research


5.      Specialized Extension Educators   95

Definition of Specialization

Survey of Regional Extension Educators

Defining Features of Minnesota Regional Educators

Conclusions and Future Research


6.      Benefits and Costs for Counties   119

Benefits for County Governments

Costs to Counties

Changes in Extension Positions

Number and Variety of Local Positions

Promoting Local Positions

Speed Bumps with Local Positions

Conclusions and Future Research


7.      Extension Program Business Plans   139

Program Business Plans: What Happened?

Why Program "Business" Plans?

Implementation Challenges

Case Studies on Program Business Plans

Survey Results on Business Plans

Conclusions and Future Research


8.      Regional Support Systems   167

Distance Education Systems

Telephone Answering Lines

Online Program Registration

Selling Publications and Products

Needs Assessment and Market Research

Tracking Program Participation

Grants for New Program Initiatives

Training for Specialized Regional Educators

Conclusions and Future Research


9.      Scholarship and Promotion Policies   193

Core Values and Promotion

Scholarship in Extension

Revising Minnesota's Promotion System

Minnesota's Promotion Policy

Conclusions and Future Research




10.   Program Quality Results   219

Definitions of Quality

Regional Program Quality Indicators

The "Best Program" Quality Definition

Initial Results for Minnesota

Outputs, Outcomes and Impacts

Specialization's Impact on Evaluation

Conclusions and Future Research


11.   Scholarship Results   251

Educator/Faculty Scholarship Collaboration

Changes in Regional Educators' Scholarship

Conclusions and Future Research


12.    Access to Extension   269

Access to Extension Staff as Civic Leaders

Geographic Access to Specialists

Access to Extension Programs

Access to Information

Access by Diverse Audiences

Conclusions and Future Research


13.   Public Support Results   281

Media Coverage and Legislative Hearings

National Trends in Funding

Public Funding of Minnesota Extension 

Alternative Revenues in Minnesota Model

Regionalization's Impact on Future Restructuring

Conclusions and Future Research


14.   And In My State?   297

Is the Minnesota Model Working?

Would this Work in My State?

Next Steps? 

A Final Word of Optimism


Appendix A. Cooperative Extension Service Overview   309

Appendix B. Labels for Minnesota Extension Positions/Structures  314

Appendix C. Leadership for Minnesota Regional/County Model   317

Appendix D. Program Business Plan Outline   327

Appendix E. Business Plan for Retail Analysis & Development   330

Glossary   363

References   371

Index   393

New Book Available:

George Morse, Jeanne Markell, Philip O'Brien, Adeel Ahmed, Thomas Klein, and Larry Coyle. The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis. iUniverse, Bloomington, October 2009. 428 pages.

Available from and in soft cover or hard cover.

Google Books: you to read some of the book. To find the book easily, enter the full title.

The Minnesota Response explains how Minnesota Extension responded to its mission and money crisis in 2004 with a sweeping reogranization.  Breaking with 95 years of tradition, Minnesota Extension shifted from a county based delivery model to a regional/county delivery model.  Regionalization, however, is the tip of the iceberg. Several other policies define Minnesota's new approach, including changes in funding sources, degree of specialization of the regional educators, more statewide program teams, development of business plans, increased use of market research, supervision of field educators by program specialists rather than geographic supervisors, and new scholarship and promotion expectations.  The Minnesota Response details these policies and reports on thier initial impacts on program quality, scholarship, access to Extension, and public support for Extension.

The book discusses a number of the economic concepts which were the foundation of the Minnesota regional/county model.  However, it is written for a general audience rather than for economists. 

For a better picture of why it was written, read the "Preface." 

In later blog entries, specific aspects of the book will be discussed and comments will be welcomed, especially from Minnesota stakeholders and those in other states with regional systems.



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