Spring 1985 // Volume 23 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT2

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The Cooperative Extension Service, A National Assessment


Robert O. Butler
Assistant to the Director
Chair of Extension Future
Directions Committee
Washington State University-Pullman

The Cooperative Extension Service, A National Assessment. Paul D. Warner and James A. Christenson. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1984. 195 pp. $24.50 hardcover, $10.95 softcover.

Can an organization created in 1914 make adjustments to survive rapid and pervasive changes in America? What will Extension look like in the year 2000? This book addresses these questions and the role of an educational agency in the 1980's.

The Cooperative Extension Service, as a publicly supported educational agency, continually struggles to define its function and purpose in a changing society. In recent years, Extension has increased its emphasis on evaluating programs for accountability and program improvement. An evaluation of Extension was mandated by the 1977 Food and Agriculture Act-prompting the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to name a task force that also evaluated Extension. In 1981, the General Accounting Office (GAO) questioned the mission of Extension.

Other studies have examined specific program areas: 4-H, home economics, community resource development, and agriculture and natural resources.

But this study is the first nationwide public assessment of Extension as a whole.

The book is for people who make decisions about the future of Extension and its programs. For a state organization undergoing long-range planning, the book is filled with pertinent data. It has potential for undergraduate and graduate study; it will contribute to the emerging field of evaluative research.

The authors analyzed primary data from a national telephone survey of the general population-one of the first attempts to use "daily county" data for an extensive evaluation. Responses from a sample of 1,082 interviews were analyzed.

A total of 27% of the sample families had used Cooperative Extension; 64% of the users lived in metropolitan counties; 35% of those grew up in rural areas.

The study raises a perplexing situation; support is present from nontraditional audiences, but in most states agriculture is the traditional audience and expected advocate for Extension. The authors contend that Extension needs to update its support base to reflect the breadth of its clientele and programs.

The book discusses the number one question that Extension specialists and agents ask continually: "If we adopt new programs, which ones do we drop?"

The study indicates a high need for new programs, but presents the dilemma when administrators don't help Extension personnel identify top priority programs.

Chapter Four discusses the clientele of Extension: the proportion of the population that uses Extension, the program areas they use, a description of users and nonusers, and a test of Equal Opportunity criteria.

Chapter Five focuses on clientele satisfactionoverall satisfaction and characteristics of those who are satisfied and dissatisfied: 95% of the users are satisfied with Extension, all types of users were highly satisfied, irrespective of age, sex, income, education, race, occupation, and residence; the more frequent the use, the higher the level of satisfaction.

But the study goes on to illustrate that the upper middle-class operators of large farms and the elderly are well-served and more satisfied, but small farm and rural nonfarm residents are less satisfied. The authors believe Extension needs to examine its services to small farm operators.

Individual contacts, especially personal visits, account for over half the time of county Extension staff. One-to-one communication proved the most expensive form of contact; group methods and mass media offer less costly alternatives. However, the authors state, the choice of educational methods must be made not only in light of costs, but also the nature of the message and the intended audience.

The book is "a must" for every Extension employee, for it considers many of our own concerns and documents the similarities between our perceptions and those of our clientele.