Grower News: Changes to UW-Extension Announced

On February 10, 2016, UW-Extension and UW Colleges Chancellor Cathy Sandeen announced changes for the Cooperative Extension to deal with $3.6 million cuts in state funding from the division’s annual budget.

The effort will “streamline administration, sharpen its focus on education, and introduce other changes as part of a comprehensive restructuring,” according to a press release on the UW-Extension site.

The plans were developed using feedback and recommendations gathered last fall from key stakeholders of the Cooperative Extension. These included county and tribal leaders, agricultural commodity groups, campus colleagues and others.

Sandeen said the process of gathering input showed “the state of Wisconsin depends on Cooperative Extension, and that the people of Wisconsin see tremendous value in our work.” She noted every single piece of feedback was considered and “the directions we’re announcing reflect many of the ideas we’ve heard.”

According to a  UW-Extension press release, the reorganization will focus on:

  • “Structuring county and area jobs to let educators and researchers focus on education and research rather than administrative tasks.
  • Keeping a Cooperative Extension office in every county while establishing multi-county areas that consolidate administration, educators and researchers.
  • Respecting different levels of county investment, ensuring that each county receives services proportionate to its funding.
  • Prioritizing state specialist positions and reducing supply and equipment expenses to meet budget targets for campus-based programs.
  • Gradually and collaboratively establish greater flexibility in appointments for state specialists—faculty experts typically affiliated with UW System campuses—to better address emerging needs.
  • Integrating technology into program delivery, educational products, and administration.
  • Promoting opportunities to generate new revenue.
  • Consolidating administrative functions with UW-Extension administration where possible for greater efficiency and flexibility.”

Over the next six months, a steering committee and focused workgroups will put plans in place to introduce the changes. Structural changes will begin “as soon as July.” Changes to personnel will roll out in late 2016 through early 2017.

The release noted the approved changes modify the recommendations proposed this past fall. One example given was how “they shift some multi-county area boundaries and establish that areas must be staffed to reflect unique county needs and investments.”

The changes to UW-Extension result from a $250 million reduction in state funding to the UW System. While Cooperative Extension also receives county, federal and other funding, the massive reduction drove swift action to reevaluate budgets and look at modernizing structures and services.

While these restructuring efforts do the best job they can to provide the finest service possible, changes will be felt.

“County leaders and ordinary citizens have told me that they didn’t realize how a cut to the UW System would trickle down and affect them so directly,” Sandeen said. “We believe we can soften the impact by becoming more efficient, but we know we won’t be able to do all the work that communities have come to expect.”

Despite the cuts, Sandeen believes Cooperative Extension in Wisconsin will remain “a model for extension services in other states, driven by the belief that UW institutions must enrich life in every corner of their state.”

“Cooperative Extension’s people and programs bring the Wisconsin Idea to life in unique and immediate ways,” she said. “We’re building on a century-old commitment and imagining how we best connect with communities for generations to come.”