Recently in Part I: The Crisis and A Solution Category

Regional Specialization: A Solution?

Chapter 2:

Chapter 2 explores the theory of specialization and comparative advantage.  Economic theory suggests that specialization increases productivity.  Does this apply to education or Extension Educators?  A review of the literature shows that many economists and extension leaders think it does.  A review of the initial steps by Extension Services to encourage specialization suggests that few, if any, states have found the institutional arrangements needed to encourage specialization.

Updates since book publication:

Iowa State University Extension's 2009 Restructuring

Iowa State University announced a new regional model in the spring of 2009.  The new Iowa model has some features which are the same as the Minnesota model and some that appear different.  Similar to the Minnesota model, counties can purchase local positions but have to pay the full cost rather than getting a major portion covered by the state Extension office.  All of the state and federal funds go to fund "program specialists," which includes both specialized field educators and campus faculty.  The program specialists work over multi-county regions and/or the entire state. Unlike Minnesota, there are no regional offices.  The field program specialists have virtual offices, with some also using county offices.

For a more detailed description of these changes see:   

Comments:   Has your state taken steps to encourage regionalization and/or specialization?  If so, what are they?  Are there any research reports or journal articles about the effectiveness of these new arrangements? 

Extension's Money and Mission Crisis

Chapter 1:

Even though Cooperative Extension has been one of the most successful outreach institutions in the USA for nearly 100 years and has been widely copied by other nations, it has a mission and money crisis now.  This is documented in Chapter 1.

Updates since the book:

Fischer, Karen. "Economy Forces Land-Grant Universities to Reshape Extension Work" The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 13, 2009.

This article does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the "do more with less" dilemma. It provides examples from Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Louisiana, and Minnesota.

The article describes two important features of the Minnesota regional system: county choice of additional local staff and the program business plans.  Note, however, that the business plans were done by each program on a state-wide basis, pulling in faculty from all of the relevant campus departments and regional educators in a given area of expertise, rather than by regional centers.

While these two features, local choice and business plans, were two critical elements to the model Minnesota adopted in 2004, there are at least eight others which are closely connected to these.  They are: authentic specialization by regional extension educators, new funding arrangements for regional educators versus county ones, state-wide program teams on most programs, supervision of all field educators by program specialists rather than by geographic supervisors, new approaches to needs assessment and market research, new regional support systems, new external relations approaches with increased use of public value statements and regional director networks, and new scholarship and promotion expectations for field staff.

As shown in "The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis," each of the above elements has been crucial to the success of the Minnesota model.

Questions and Comments:

What is happening in your state?  Is your state facing a mission and money crisis in Extension? Are there articles which document the increasing demands and fewer resources?  If so, please share these in the comments section. 

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