Preface: The Minnesota Response

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Preface

 

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

 

2 Comments

Good work. learning to "do more with less".

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This page contains a single entry by gw published on August 12, 2009 8:21 PM.

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