Winter 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 4 // To The Point // 4TP2

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A Look at the Options


Henry A. Wadsworth
Director, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service
West Lafayette, Indiana

Tompkins has chosen to focus on what will be required for the Cooperative Extension System to successfully serve the educational and informational needs of American agriculture during the next 25 years. I have no quarrel with her main thesis that accomplishing this goal will require that Cooperative Extension Services obtain expertise from disciplines not typically contained within agriculture at our land-grant universities as well as those long established within agriculture.

In obtaining the desired response, access to outside disciplines will be gained only at considerable cost. Supporting disciplines may need certain incentives or more direction to focus programming on priority issues. In either event, a flexibility of resources will be required that doesn't now exist. While I concur that Agricultural Experiment Stations (AES) will need to do likewise, I believe the Cooperative Extension System needs to first demonstrate its ability to perform as suggested.

The issue then is flexibility. How do we create an adequate funding base that can be allocated to secure the expertise needed for developing and conducting Extension educational programs that result in applying the latest scientific knowledge to the most important problems of the day? Currently, hard funds (federal, state, and local) are essentially used up in providing professional staff salaries and support. The amount of these funds readily available for reallocation is limited. If we wished to establish a pool of hard resources for reallocation to priority issues, we'd have to significantly reduce the agent and specialist staff. A second alternative is to become very directive, authorizing hard salary and support funds only for approved plans of work that address priority problems. Another option is to continue salary support but allocate hard support dollars as if they were soft, thereby directing the work through appropriate incentives rather than relying on the disciplines to make priority programmatic decisions.

How about soft funds? Agricultural Experiment Stations have achieved flexibility through outside support. The availability of soft dollars now directs much of the work of the AES hard dollars and in recent years has led to an emphasis on disciplinary rather than applied decision-making research. Are soft dollars available from agencies other than USDA? If so, what would be the impact on programming? Would it lead to more service and less education? Should federal dollars be considered soft since they're becoming progressively less dependable in terms of funding base programs? Most states already make a distinction between Smith-Lever 3b/c and 3d hard vis-a-vis soft dollars. Charging significant fees to users is a third way to generate soft resources, but the experience in Western Europe suggests it tends to direct programming towards specific user benefit without considerations of need for general knowledge and understanding, policy issues, low-income audiences, etc.

I mention the above only to point out that flexibility can be achieved without restructuring. However, I recognize that decisions on these options are constrained by the necessity for CES to continue as part of the university community.

Flexibility of resources is also at the heart of Tompkins' comments about staffing and training. I believe we have an imperative to maintain the partnership, but we also have one to use the staff resources in the most effective way possible. Whether county/regional agents are information brokers or technical specialists will depend on what arrangement best delivers needed educational help in a timely, efficient, and cost-effective manner. It's apparent that all the technical speciality requirements aren't likely to be met even by campus specialists. We need to consider pooling resources through contractual agreements to permit multistate access to particular expertise. But, we must also examine the communication technology requirements that will enable staff to deliver what's needed, where it's needed, and when it's needed. American business adds capital to increase its output per worker. Are we really different?

Whatever the choice, the imperative of Tompkin's fifth point, that our mission is education, must be heeded. What we do is publicly defensible only if it's educational in nature or is important in achieving an educational objective.