Cooperative Extension—a division of University of Wisconsin Extension — will streamline administration, sharpen its focus on education, and introduce other changes as part of a comprehensive restructuring that aims to cut $3.6 million of state funding from the division's annual budget.
Cathy Sandeen, chancellor for UW-Extension and UW Colleges, announced the changes Feb. 10, drawing on recommendations developed last fall and on feedback from county and tribal leaders, campus colleagues, agricultural commodity groups, and others with a stake in Cooperative Extension's future.
"This process has made it clear that the state of Wisconsin depends on Cooperative Extension, and that the people of Wisconsin see tremendous value in our work," Sandeen said. "We considered every single piece of input, and the directions we're announcing reflect many of the ideas we've heard."
The reorganization, dubbed nEXT Generation, will emphasize these priorities:
· 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.
The approved changes revise the fall 2015 recommendations in various ways. For example, they shift some multi-county area boundaries and establish that areas must be staffed to reflect unique county needs and investments.
A steering committee and dedicated workgroups will develop detailed implementation plans over the next six months. Structural changes will begin as soon as July, with any personnel changes expected in late 2016 through early 2017.
"Staff and faculty have spent considerable time and thought on this project, and it shows in the depth of proposals they've developed," says Rick Klemme, dean and director of Cooperative Extension. "Their contributions will be even more important going forward, as they bring these ideas to life."
Cuts in service
A $250 million reduction in state funding to UW System prompted the changes. Though Cooperative Extension also receives funding from county, federal, and other sources, the state cut created an urgent need to reduce budgets, but also a chance to consider modernizing structures and services.
"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."
Nevertheless, Sandeen expects Cooperative Extension to 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."