Extension’s Response to the Change in Public Value: Considerations for Ensuring Financial Security for the Cooperative Extension System
Cooperative Extension is a partnership of county, state, and federal governments to fund the translation and community education of applied research from the land-grant university system. Cooperative Extension’s funding since the 1980s has experienced a few key trends such as federal budget stagnation as well as state and county cyclic funding cycles based on the states’ economic health. Accompanying the state-level budget cuts have been calls for Cooperative Extension to reinvent and improve communication about what it does. As budget stability has become a greater concern, ideas around value and return on investment have become more integrated into the messaging about why Cooperative Extension should be funded. These economic terms reflect the integration of neoliberalism’s frame. In a larger qualitative research study about how Cooperative Extension administrators recognize the need for change, funding emerged as a fundamental influence of organization adaptation. The public contract between citizen, legislature, and public-serving organizations has changed to, “What is the return on investment?” To respond to the shifting narrative, it was necessary to assess, measure, and communicate value. However, administrators also recognized relationships mattered to how the message was received by legislators and other funders.
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