Spring 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA1

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What's Their Perception?


James C. Miller, Jr.
State Extension Leader-Personnel
College of Agricultural Sciences
Cooperative Extension Service
Clemson University-Clemson.

How legislators perceive the Cooperative Extension Service is important to the future of this statewide agency. Since legislators determine the major funds that support Extension programs, they need to know and understand the structure and operation of the agency as a basis for making decisions. To determine the extent of the legislators' knowledge about the educational activities and programs Extension provides South Carolina citizens, a study was conducted in 1985.

In South Carolina, the continuing population shift from rural to urban areas created legislative redistribution that may influence how appropriations are determined. Census reports show the state's urban population increased from 36.8% to 53.6% between 1950 and 1980. As its clientele has been largely concentrated on farms and in rural areas, Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service (CUCES) was concerned about the support that a more urban legislature might give to requests for appropriations. Its continued success depends on the image it projects to the legislators on whom it relies for financial support.

Cooperative Funding

Extension programs are financed cooperatively from federal, state, and county sources. The current national distribution pattern reflects federal support amounting to 40%, state support also about 40%, county support 18%, and two percent from nontax sources.1

Federal appropriations in South Carolina accounted for 37% of the overall 1984 budget, but 62% was from state appropriations, 0.4% from county appropriations, and 0.6% from nontax sources.2 In recent years, funds from state sources have increased dramatically to fill the void left by deflated federal dollars. From fiscal year 1980 to fiscal year 1984, state funds increased by 25%, but federal funds increased only 13%.

Study's Objectives

The objectives of this study were twofold. The first was to determine how members of the 1985 South Carolina Legislature perceived the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service, related to purpose and objectives, participation and involvement in programs and activities, basic program areas, and clientele. The second one was to determine the association between legislators' perceptions of these aspects and their role in the legislature, years of legislative experience, political party affiliation, place of residence, character of district, age, and occupation.

Questionnaire Response

A mailed questionnaire was used to collect information from all the legislators (124 representatives and 46 senators). Usable data were obtained from 111 members (65%) of the legislature. Eighty-two representatives (66%) and 29 senators (63%) participated in the study. Frequency distributions, percentages, and rank order were used to characterize the various aspects of the legislators' perceptions. The chi-square test of independence tested the significance of the relationships between certain legislative characteristics and the legislators' perceptions of the selected aspects of the CUCES.


Association of Selected Factors

Each of the seven selected variables was associated significantly with at least one or more the aspects of perception examined. Party affiliation, place of residence, and the character of district exerted the greatest influence on how the legislators perceived the CUCES.

Extension Purpose and Objectives

Data indicated that legislators had little understanding of Extension's major mission. The majority of the legislators (75%) viewed Extension as a public service agency rather than an educational one. Surprisingly, only 11% indicated Extension's main function was an educational mission.

Forty-two percent of the legislators felt that services should be increased to clientele in urban areas. A majority of the legislators (55%) rated the effectiveness of Extension as above average or excellent.

Forty-eight percent of the responding legislators indicated they believed Extension was making many contributions to the people in their district; 17% indicated they did not know what contributions nor the extent of contributions Extension was making.

Extension Participation and Involvement

Sixty-eight percent of the legislators indicated they knew their county Extension chairperson. Eighty-eight percent said they knew the location of the county Extension office. Sixty-four percent said they'd participated in an Extension activity, but over half (59%) indicated neither they nor any member of their family had ever participated in the 4-H program, the youth phase of Extension.

Only 22% of the legislators thought Extension was successful in keeping them informed about its activities. Twenty-three percent indicated they'd never received nor read newsletters released by Extension specialists; 39% indicated they'd never used any Extension publications; 46% had never visited their county Extension office; and 42% had never been visited by an Extension agent.

Legislators who lived in and represented rural areas indicated a greater participation and involvement in Extension programs and activities.

CUCES Basic Program Areas

Legislators were somewhat familiar with the four basic Extension program areas - agriculture and natural resources, community development, home economics, and 4-H youth development. They were more familiar with the agriculture and 4-H program areas. Familiarity with the four areas was directly related to where legislators lived and the character of the district represented - the more rural the district, the more familiar the legislators were with the various program areas.

The legislators responding indicated highest priority for the program area of agriculture and lowest priority for home economics. They also placed high priority on the agricultural program areas of emphasis - improving farm production practices and proper use and conservation of natural resources. More than three-fourths of the legislators (77%) ranked the agriculture program area as the most important, followed by 4-H, community development, and home economics.

CUCES Clientele

The legislators considered the clientele groups associated with agriculture the most important and the clientele groups associated with home economics the least important. Small or part-time farmers were considered the most important by a majority of the legislators. Only eight percent of the legislators indicated that a great deal of time and effort should be devoted to urban homemakers.


Extension should strengthen and improve its image with legislators, and an effort must be made to help both rural and urban legislators understand the major concern and mission of Extension. Overall, the legislators appeared to perceive Extension mainly as a rural, agriculturally oriented organization.

Because rural legislators are already more involved in Extension programs and activities, Extension should make an effort to involve urban legislators in its program activities. We need to keep in mind the association of the seven elected variables and the legislators' perception of Extension in planning and developing new programs.

Extension must keep legislators informed about what the organization is doing, how it is doing it, and what it could be doing if funds were available; an appropriate way would be to provide a statewide annual report to all legislators.

Extension should increase legislative briefings and lobbying efforts that highlight its accomplishments and activities. Channels of communication with legislators must be established and maintained year-round, not just at budget time.

Extension should strive to strengthen and increase the identity of its home economics program throughout the state by emphasizing how the program has helped South Carolina families improve their living standard, their family relationships, and their nutrition and diets. Extension must pursue and adopt techniques that will achieve greater public recognition by urban populations and their legislators.

According to the legislators' comments, their perceptions of Extension probably are influenced more strongly by the county Extension staff than any other group. County Extension agents must make a positive effort to keep in touch with their legislators and be aware of their major issues of concern, their committee assignments, and the clientele groups to which they listen.


1. Warren Prawl, Roger Medlin, and John Gross, Adult and Continuing Education Through the Cooperative Extension Service (Columbia: University of Missouri Extension Division, 1984).

2. State of South Carolina Budget for Fiscal Year 1984, General Assembly of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, 1984.