OSU Extension Service looks to the future

2011-08-22T12:00:00Z OSU Extension Service looks to the futureBy GAIL COLE, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
August 22, 2011 12:00 pm  • 

Editor’s note: This story is fourth in a series marking the 100th anniversary of Oregon State University Extension Service.

When the dust settled at the last state legislative session in late June, Oregon State University Extension Service ended up with an 11 percent cut in state funding after Oregon’s statewide public service programs lost $8 million of their proposed 2011-13 biennium budget, leaving them with a total of just more than $38 million.

The $8 million cut from the statewide budget was much less than originally proposed, and extension and university officials are grateful.

But the loss of $8 million coupled with the budget holdback — legislators asked all state agencies to freeze 3.5 percent of their budgets in case the expected tax revenues didn’t roll in later in the biennium — means money is tight for OSU Extension Service.

So, extension administration is looking to adapt to uncertain budgetary futures through reorganizing its administrators, promoting new programs to stimulate local and state economies and relying on the services’ most efficient and effective qualities.

Reorganization

Scott Reed, vice provost for outreach and engagement and director of OSU Extension Service, said extension’s budget is 90 percent salaries, so the best way to cut costs is to keep open faculty and staff positions vacant and spread out responsibilities of current staff.

For example, they’re eliminating county administrators and putting single administrators in charge of clusters of counties, to cut back on payroll costs.

Locally, Benton County will be grouped with Linn, Polk, Yamhill and Marion counties and administered by a multicounty supervisor.

To continue providing information to the public with less people, extension is delivering more and more education materials online and offering electronic services, such as the email question-based service Ask an Expert.

New programs, alternative funding

In conjunction with recently passed Senate Bill 909, which establishes an Oregon Education Investment Board overseeing how the state spends money on education from kindergarten through higher education levels, OSU Extension is working to incorporate more community-based educational opportunities throughout the state.

The biggest effort? Oregon Open Campus. Currently operating in Tillamook, Crook and Jefferson counties, the program collaborates with local community colleges and educators to provide four types of education for the local public: enrichment, solutions to problems (much like the traditional way agents educate on local needs), credential-based (relicensing classes for workers in a particular industry, for example), and work preparation and vocational education.

The classes, ranging from the Customer Service Academy at Tillamook Bay Community College to general education degree programs in Crook County, are offered on-site, online or both.

It’s a way to do some “economic gardening” statewide, as Reed puts it. He said extension hopes to continue offering business-related education opportunities to stage-two companies — businesses that are transitioning from a startup to a larger company and typically have between 10 and 100 employees.

Optimism

Compared to other state extension services, Reed said they way OSU Extension Service is both funded and administered allows for it to be more financially successful and ultimately helpful to the public.

First, some extension services are funded completely through the university. Since OSU Extension’s state funding — 60 percent of their total budget — comes from a line item in the state education and general fund, constituents and extension administration are more able to urge legislators to shift funds directly into the statewide budget. (Extension is also funded by 20 percent federal dollars and 20 percent county dollars.)

Jock Mills, OSU’s government relations director, said the statewides’ line-item funding through the education and general fund budget won’t change due to the passage of Senate Bill 242, voted on by legislators in late June. That bill gave the Oregon University System’s seven institutions more freedom over their money, as state dollars would be dispersed in a block grant rather than through line items in the budget. The Statewide Public Service Programs are the exception, and will continue to be funded by a line item in the budget.

Extension has also recently come in the way of grant dollars as a way to fund programming. Reed said they were awarded about 300 grants totalling $52 million last year, a 60 percent increase from the previous year.

Second, OSU Extension is administered through the division of outreach and engagement, not a particular college, so extension faculty represent eight of OSU’s 11 colleges. Reed said this provides a greater variety of expertise within extension faculty; after all, extension faculty represent every department from horticulture in the College of Agricultural Science to nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Science.

Also, because tenured and tenure-track university faculty are required to conduct research, their experience with the university ultimately help them as extension educators.

“Our people are literally doing research on the work that they extend,” Reed said.

The unique qualities of OSU Extension — how it’s funded and administered — make Reed confident the agency will weather the storm.

“All those things allow for an element of innovation here that causes us to try to new things, apply what works and allow us to go forward in good times and bad,” he said.

Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-777-9497 or gail.cole@gazettetimes.com.

Copyright 2014 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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