October 20, 2020
What Do We Get Out of the Deal?
I often receive questions that refer to the shrinking percentage of state-level participation in agents' salaries. “Kansas State University is providing less and less to agent salaries. What do we (local units) get out of the deal?” While I have answered this question many times in the past on a phone call, email, or meeting, I am taking this opportunity to address the issue in this more common weekly forum.
For clarity, I will refer to our system of campus, regional centers, and local units as K-State Research and Extension. When I refer to K-State Research and Extension’s county and district partners, I will refer to them as “local units.” When I refer to the state and regional level of our systematic partnership, I will refer to that as K-State.
First, let’s remember that there is no one way to govern or fund local units. Throughout the entire U.S. Cooperative Extension system, there are 72 individual extension systems (one for each state, district, and territory). There are also approximately 72 different ways of governing and funding extension local units that evolved. All have advantages and disadvantages. Some land-grant universities pay relatively more into local unit operations than other states. Some local units pay more relative to their land-grant university, sometimes 100% of the local-unit expenses, but they have no say in governing those local units. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there are only three systems where the land-grant University shares in the governance of the local extension unit. K-State Research and Extension, of course, is one of those three systems.
Because the comparative investment in agent salaries is a common concern, we all need to have a clear understanding with regard to K-State's and the local-unit's investment in the salary and benefits of agents. Kansas state law requires K-State to provide $1,500 toward agent salaries. We invest much more than that. We invest $18,018 for each of the first two agent positions. We then invest $11,128 for each of the remaining agent positions up to the maximum number of agents allotted to that local unit. If the local unit has more agents than they are allotted, we invest the state minimum $1,500 for each agent over the allotted maximum number of agents.
This isn’t the only direct financial investment in agents that K-State makes, however. K-State invests the same proportion as it does to an agent’s salary as it does on such benefits as health insurance, Social Security, and Medicare. While many in our system do not realize or recognize those K-State contributions to agent benefits, even fewer realize our contribution to the K-State retirement plan in which agents participate as K-State Research and Extension employees. K-State pays the entire employer contribution to that retirement fund. That investment is set at a rate of 8.5% of an agent’s salary.
As you can see, K-State’s investment in agent salaries is much more that the $18,018 and $11,128 that is frequently mentioned. Both the local unit and K-State make investments beyond agent salaries that help to ensure that the people of Kansas receive the researched and unbiased K-State Research and Education programs and facilitation they need to improve their lives, livelihoods and communities.
Next. It is clear that local-unit agents are on our K-State Research and Extension educational front lines. Their role in our K-State Research and Extension system partnership is obvious, especially at the local unit level. I encourage you to think about how K-State contributes to those front-line efforts.
To help illustrate this, let’s go through a day-in-the life example of a local unit. As a K-State Research and Extension agent or local-unit extension professional opens the door to the office, there is the K-State Research and Extension wordmark. It represents that the education, facilitation, and other resources provided by the extension professionals in that office is researched-backed, unbiased and trustworthy.
As the lights go on, the extension professional sees their display of publications near the front of the office that shows K-State Research and Extension publications. The vast majority of the content held within those publications and every digital publication stored online and in the local unit’s computer system, a system that is often serviced by the K-State “Road Warriors,” were developed by a K-State specialist, team of specialists, Program Focus Team member, transdisciplinary team member, or some other team of K-State Research and Extension professionals that K-State convened to address an issue of common concern across the state.
As the day begins and progresses, the crop-production agent calls up a regional or campus specialist to get assistance on a client’s tougher-than-usual question. The new 4-H Youth Development agent is online taking one of K-State Research and Extension’s five onboarding courses that prepare them for their K-State Research and Extension career. To better prepare for a future workshop the local unit is putting on, one of the family and consumer science agents talks to the K-State family resource management specialist about the subtle but complex differences between one healthcare plan and another. The other family and consumer science agent slips out of the office at noon to meet with the local PRIDE organization and one of K-State’s community vitality specialists to discuss their upcoming community vitality activity plans. The local unit’s accounting professional determines the correct method to record a unique financial transaction with the assistance of one of the members of Bob Casey's auditing team. The livestock production agent is taking a van load of ranchers to a field day sponsored by one of the K-State campus departments or Regional Research and Extension Centers. The local-unit office professional calls the K-State digital media specialist to obtain a better understanding about what the latest metrics of the local unit’s last social media marketing campaign means. The local-unit director engages with the K-State Regional Director for Local Units to discuss the screened candidate applications for the local unit’s new K-State Research and Extension agent position and to plan for their upcoming interviews that will be conducted jointly by local-unit Extension Board, the local-unit director and staff, and the K-State Regional Local Unit director.
Now, what would happen if the K-State portion of these important K-State Research and Extension local-unit activities, as well as other activities, went away? We would be a much less effective and efficient extension system.
It is easy to get caught up in a single metric to evaluate how well any partnership (personal, marital, business, non-profit organizational partnerships, etc.) is doing, especially when it is a “who is sharing the majority of the financial or work burden” type of evaluation. When we stoop to only calculating the share of the burden of one metric, however, we are already diminishing the partnership’s purpose.
Our purpose as the K-State Research and Extension system is to provide the people of Kansas with the research and education they need to improve their lives, livelihoods and communities. K-State cannot do that as effectively without local units, and our local units cannot do that without K-State. We are a team. We are a system. We work together, invest together and lead together.
Let’s not be myopic about who does what. Let’s appreciate what each other contributes to our important partnership – the K-State Research and Extension system.