"Our Extension Educators are much more specialized than they were a few years ago." This is a common comment from Extension state specialists and administrators around the nation. But what does it really mean?
"Specialization of field educators" has different characteristics and features in different states. Some have even suggested that the term "specialized field extension educators" is an oxymoron.
In Minnesota, the "specialized" extension educators before 2004 were very different than those after 2004. Before 2004, the field educators had self-declared a "specialization." Sometimes this specialization is unrelated to the area of work for which they were originally hired or trained. In some areas, community development, for instance, the "specialized educators" could only work one or two days a week on their speciality because they were hired to be 4-H youth educators or agricultural agents.
In a forthcoming book, titled The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis, Adeel Ahmed and I define a specialized field Extension Educator as follows:
A specialized Extension Educator concentrates on an area of expertise, provides leadership on a statewide program team that develops and delivers outreach educational programs for a community of interest, and contributes to the scholarship related to outreach education. (p. 98)
While many observes might see the new Minnesota model as primarily a move to regionalization, this is only the tip of the ice berg.
"Specialized Regional Extension Educators in Minnesota have the following defining features:
1) are located in regional centers rather than county offices;
2) cover larger geographic areas than non-specialized educators;
3) are not funded by counties but rather by state funds, federal funds, or by other organizations;
4) focus on a specific area of expertise;
5) have high scholarship and promotion expectations; and
6) are supervised by state specialists in their area of expertise."
(Morse, George and Adeel Ahmed. "Specialized Extension Educators," in Morse, G. (forthcoming). The Minnesota Response: Cooperative Extension's Money and Mission Crisis. Bloomington, iUniverse. p. 101)
The book presents evidence on the degree to which the Minnesota Regional Extension Educators fit this definition of specialization and how their degree of specialization changed from the previous county cluster delivery model to the new regional/county model.See "Research and Articles" under this category (Specialization) for references.