April 2, 2019
1982 was the first time I heard the lament. I was in the livestock barn at our fair, and I overheard a fair board and Extension board member talking about it.
“Extension will be gone in five years.”
1987 came and went. Yet, the lament persisted. It was there when I graduated college. “Why go into Extension, it will be gone in five years.” It was there when I left my industry career to go to graduate school in order to go into Extension. “That’s dumb. Extension will be gone in five years.” It was there when I became an Extension specialist. “Why? Extension will be gone in five years.” I have even heard Extension colleagues say it each and every year of my seventeen year Extension career. “Extension will be gone in five years.”
Guess what. Extension is still here, and its mission is needed today just as much as it was needed in 1914. As long as there are challenges to face regarding our food, natural resources, health, communities, leadership and family – Extension is needed. As long as there are people who are looking for ways to improve their lives, livelihoods, and communities, Extension is needed.
The whole five year thing really perplexes me. Public service budgets are forever linked to politics. There are no terms of elected officials that correspond with five years. Why five years?
What really perplexes and bothers me, however, is when I hear a fellow Extension professional utter the lament. Have you ever pressed a fellow Extension professional who says this to explain their comment? The most justified will point to recent budget trends. Budget challenges exist and rise and fall inversely with the economy and tax revenue. They always have. These economic pressures exist in other public sector professions and private sector professions, too. Despite budgetary challenges, Extension exists.
Some lamenting colleagues point to things that they overheard a key influencer who had heard a legislator say that people do not need Extension anymore? Really? People aren’t needing Extension anymore? Do your quarterly effort reports reflect this? Second, how much faith should we put into a third-, fourth-, or fifth-hand negative scuttlebutt story?
Don’t get me wrong. We do need to realize that public service agencies, not-for-profits, and private industry businesses die. There can be various reasons for their death, but most die because they either let themselves become irrelevant or were unable to prove their relevance. They let themselves become dispensable.
The next time you hear a colleague (or are tempted to utter it yourself) use the phrase “Extension will be gone in five years,” why not change the tenor of the conversation to:
• “How can we make Extension even better than it is today?”
• How can we reach more people than we do today?
• Can we do a better job of determining needs?
• What new, potentially more appealing education methods can we implement?
• Can we do a better job of determining and reporting our impact?
Ask, “What can we do to make Extension thrive and be even more indispensable today, tomorrow, in the next five years, and beyond?”
Then, do it!