National System, Local Connection
Cooperative Extension (Extension) translates science for practical applications; engages with the public by providing reliable information leading to positive action; and transforms individuals, families, communities and businesses in rural
and urban areas. Extension operates through the nationwide land-grant university system and is a partnership among the federal government (through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture) and state and local governments.
How does Cooperative Extension work?
Extension’s unique structure consists of university faculty members and local educators. Campus-based faculty members are disciplinary specialists with doctoral degrees whose primary responsibility is to develop curricula that translate science-based research results into language (written, verbal, and electronic) appropriate for targeted audiences. County-based educators (most of whom have graduate degrees) work with local citizens and interest groups to solve problems, evaluate the effectiveness of learning tools, and collect grassroots input to prioritize future research. By living and working in communities, county educators respond to local needs, build trust, and engage effectively with citizens.
How is Cooperative Extension funded?
Capacity funding from federal, state and county appropriations is the critical foundation of Extension resources, while grants, contracts, fees and gifts provide some support. The Extension mission—to translate, engage, and transform—along with its strong off-campus, community-based structure, makes it complementary to, though quite different from, research and requires a different funding model.
For example, research scientists may address a particular question, such as developing a new, highly nutritious vegetable variety. This development may be accomplished by one or a few selected universities with results useful on a broad scale. In contrast, the Extension role of helping people understand the benefits of eating more nutritious foods, and acquiring the knowledge, skills and motivation to take positive action, must be carried out in communities in the 3,000- plus counties in the United States, and must be repeated over many years to achieve broad adoption with each new generation of learners.
Over the past several decades, the purchasing power of federal capacity funding, distributed via formula to land-grant universities to support Extension programs, has been slowly reduced.
Capacity funds, often leveraged three- to four-fold with other funding, enable the persistent and trusted intervention necessary for transformational learning to take place in agriculture and natural resources, family and consumer sciences, 4-H youth development, and community economic development.
Prepared 5.2.13 by the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP), the representative leadership and governing body of Cooperative Extension nationwide.