Winter 1991 // Volume 29 // Number 4 // Futures // 4FUT1

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Targeting Audiences for the 21st Century

Many Extension staff have the ability to develop skills and sensitivities needed to educate low-income and minority audiences. What's needed now is an active commitment to this objective by more Extension staff-not just those who have always educated these audiences. The future success of Extension will be determined not only by the relevance of its educational programs, but by the extent to which low-income and minority group citizens participate in and consider them valuable.

Soneeta Grogan
Extension Specialist
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program
and Families-At-Risk
Cooperative Extension Service
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

By the year 2010, one-quarter to one-third of all Americans will belong to racial or ethnic minority groups.1 Additionally, more than one-third of children living in the U.S. will be black, Hispanic, or Asian.2 If current trends continue, a significant proportion of these individuals will have low incomes. Even those with middle incomes and greater resources will have different characteristics than Extension's traditional white, middle-income audience. Citizens from these racial and ethnic minority groups will have varying histories, customs, values, and sensitivities.

How well is Extension reaching minorities? The data show it has been increasing its contact with minority clientele. Over the fiscal 1984-86 period, Extension's total contacts with minority clientele increased slightly from 15.6% to 16.3%. For the same period, total contacts with majority clientele decreased from 84.4% to 83.8%.3

In fiscal 1986, contacts with minority clientele accounted for 33% of a 46.5 million minority clientele potential. For the same period, contacts with majority clientele accounted for 38% of the 206.1 million majority potential.4 Although contacts with minority clientele have increased, the percentage of contacts with this population relative to the potential continues to be lower than for majority clientele.

The next century also promises a larger proportion of low- income citizens. Many of these citizens will constitute the limited-resource audience that includes "individuals and families who lack access to adequate nutrition, affordable health care, transportation alternatives, stable home environments, and quality housing because of limited income and education."5 These individuals and families will struggle to provide for the necessities of life. Adults and youth from this audience will need a variety of life skills to effectively manage with limited resources.

Extension and Equity

While Extension's traditional white, middle-class audience shouldn't be neglected, greater participation by members of these other audiences should be an Extension priority. Equity demands that all groups participate in and benefit from Extension programs. In addition, in some localities, Extension may not have a clientele if programs aren't designed to attract and involve these nontraditional audiences.6

As Extension staff, we must increase our knowledge and skills for working with low-income and minority populations. Each staff person can benefit from learning about other racial or ethnic groups. Staff who have never been low-income or were a long time ago can benefit from learning about the low-income experience-a prerequisite to developing programs relevant to nontraditional audiences.

Approaches for Administrators

To meet the challenge of reaching and educating these audiences, here are several approaches for Extension administrators and other Extension staff:

  1. Communicate and demonstrate you're committed to educating low-income and minority audiences. Seize opportunities to communicate verbally and in writing about the importance of educating these audiences through Extension programs. Demonstrate your commitment by expecting Extension staff to educate a significant proportion of the low-income and minority citizens in the staff's geographic location. Include these expectations in annual performance objectives and reviews. Because reaching a new audience can be difficult, especially with populations who traditionally have low rates of participation in educational programs, give staff ample time to achieve the objectives.

  2. Employ more minority staff. Literature about serving culturally diverse audiences suggest that some minority participants persist in educational programs longer when they're instructed by individuals who share the same cultural background.7 Therefore, minority staff can contribute significantly to the goal of educating minority clientele.

    To employ additional minority staff Extension can use a proactive approach. Rather than wait for minority staff to seek a position, Extension can actively search for them. Send recruiters to colleges and universities with a high proportion of minority students, including institutions in states with a diverse minority population as well as traditionally black colleges. Involve present minority staff in these recruitment efforts. Also, advertise Extension positions through college and university placement offices and alumni career centers. County as well as state level positions can be announced in professional association publications.

  3. Provide opportunities for staff to learn about the history, customs, and strengths of minority groups. Some university faculty and staff are especially knowledgeable about cultural diversity. Many universities have organizations and programs that address minority groups' needs and culture. Network at your land- grant university and others to identify resource people who can provide formal learning opportunities for Extension staff. Opportunities can be provided during staff development programs throughout the year.

  4. Help staff learn about the experience of being low-income in the United States. Several of Fitchen's publications provide insights into the low-income experience. In Poverty in Rural America: A Case Study, she examines intergenerational poverty found on the rural fringes of urban areas.8 She intertwines historical, economic, social, cultural, and psychological materials with case examples from a decade of participant observation. Through these combinations, Fitchen provides a new understanding of the lives and actions of nonfarm, rural, low- income people. She describes the ways people perceive their problems, the constraints they face, and the solutions they've developed.

In the first part of her article on hunger and malnutrition, Fitchen says they do indeed exist in the U.S.9 The last part of the article focuses on how the food and eating patterns of the poor are shaped by dominant American cultural ideas and practices. Most important, she discusses common attitudes about poverty and the poor and how those attitudes demonstrate a lack of awareness of the cultural aspects of eating and living in the U.S. She submits that, like all of us, the low- income are American by culture and thus have the same desires as other Americans.

  • Help staff develop skills in designing educational programs for low-income and minority audiences. Serving Culturally Diverse Populations presents model programs, current literature, and descriptions of adult education practice addressing the phenomenon of cultural diversity.10 It indicates that cultural compatibility between the instructor and learner is a factor influencing the participation of some minorities in educational programs. One chapter describes a program that involved low- income minority parents in education by first involving their children. Potential problems and opportunities that will likely accompany a more culturally diverse workplace and suggestions for managing them are also featured. This book provides Extension staff with new knowledge, insights, and sensitivities about minority populations.

  • Support staff to visit successful programs in their state or other states designed especially for low-income or minority audiences. By networking with Extension staff, successful programs for minority and low-income audiences can be found. Usually state Extension specialists know about a variety of programs in their subject-matter area designed for different audiences. They can direct you to the staff who conduct those programs.

  • Design mentoring programs to share staff expertise in reaching and teaching low-income and minority audiences. Those who have expertise with these audiences can educate and guide staff who want to develop such competencies.

    Approaches for All Staff

    The following are approaches for all staff:

    1. Take advantage of professional development opportunities that increase your knowledge and skills for working with low- income individuals and minority group members. Opportunities will be available at professional association meetings, state Extension conferences, and university and community college special interest classes.

    2. Get acquainted with the agencies and organizations in your area that serve low-income or minority audiences. Explore ways Extension can cooperate and collaborate with these agencies to design and deliver programs.

    3. Join local groups working to address issues of importance to low-income and minority audiences. Determine how you, an Extension educator, can contribute to the effort.

    4. Select as council and committee members individuals who have expertise with low-income or minority populations in your area. Also, select some assertive and articulate individuals for councils and committees who are low-income and some who are minority group members.

    The Future Challenge

    During its history, Extension has successfully met numerous challenges. Many Extension staff have the ability to develop skills and sensitivities needed to educate low-income and minority audiences. What's needed now is an active commitment to this objective by more Extension staff-not just those who have always educated these audiences. The future success of Extension will be determined not only by the relevance of its educational programs, but by the extent to which low-income and minority group citizens participate in and consider them valuable.


    1. J. P. Allen and E. Turner, "Diversity Reigns," American Demographics, XII (August 1990), 34-38.

    2. J. Schwartz and T. Exter, "All Our Children," American Demographics, XI (May 1989), 34-37.

    3. Louise P. Ashton, A Resource Directory of Actual Clientele Contacts in the Cooperative Extension Service, Fiscal Years 1984 to 1986 with Fiscal Year 1987 Planned (Washington, D.C.: Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture, June 1987).

    4. Ibid.

    5. Jane Schuchardt, ed., "Reaching Limited Resource Audiences," Family Economics Newsletter (Washington, D.C.: Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture, December 1990/January 1991), pp. 1-2.

    6. W. A. Henry III, "Beyond the Melting Pot," Time, CXXXV (April 9, 1990), 28-31.

    7. J. Ross-Gordon, L. Martin, and D. Buck Briscoe, Serving Culturally Diverse Populations (San Francisco, California: Jossey -Bass, 1990).

    8. Janet M. Fitchen, Poverty in Rural America: A Case Study (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1981).

    9. Janet M. Fitchen, "Hunger, Malnutrition, and Poverty in the Contemporary United States: Some Observations on Their Social and Cultural Context," Food and Foodways, II (No. 3, 1988), 309-33.

    10. Ross-Gordon, Martin, and Briscoe, Serving Culturally Diverse Populations.