Extension looks at adjustments
Changes made in recent years cushion impact of budget cuts
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
AMES, Iowa -- Changes made in the past several years should make it easier for Iowa State University Extension to handle the latest round of budget cuts, said Stanley Johnson, vice provost for Extension.
Extension has adjusted to the cuts by increasing grant and contract funding and hiking user fees, Johnson said. Still, Extension funding from the state has declined by more than $5 million, a drop of nearly 20 percent.
Extension had expected to avoid deep cuts this year, but Governor Tom Vilsack's veto of the related language appropriations bill meant Extension was hit with the same cuts that were spread across the three regents universities, Johnson said.
A budget reduction of nearly 5 percent resulted when a mandated 2 percent salary increase was figured in.
Extension has initiated a hiring freeze and is reviewing user fees.
Johnson appointed a review committee, which will have a report ready in mid-August. The hiring freeze will be eliminated when the report is completed and Extension will work to ensure the budget is balanced.
"That could mean reducing Extension personnel and/or increasing income from fees,'' Johnson said.
The university has made $600,000 available in one-time funding to smooth the impact, Johnson said.
"That will help get us through this year, but it's not going to be there the next year,'' Johnson said. "We're looking at how we can get other help from the university and what opportunities we have to increase fees.''
Surrounding states have made drastic cuts to Extension programs in recent months, but Johnson doesn't see that happening in Iowa.
"We anticipated these difficult times possibly more effectively than surrounding states, and have tried to make ourselves more entrepreneurial over the past few years by diversifying funding sources through increasing grants and contracts and user fee income.'' Johnson said.
County Extension councils in recent years have told Johnson they want to provide more services. With state budget cuts, Johnson was forced to look at multiple funding sources to meet the need.
Becoming more entrepreneurial means a change in the culture of the organization, he said.
"It doesn't happen immediately,'' Johnson said.
Johnson sees nothing wrong with Extension working to make sure federal resources are coming to Iowa to support educational programs.
"We should be good at that,'' he said.
In recent years Extension has built a business and industry program funded almost entirely with user fees.
"Businesses are quite willing to pay for services that are going to make them money,'' Johnson said.
Extension's families program, which has traditionally served disadvantaged households, has aggressively sought grants.
"We're not going to charge low-income households user fees, but our families staff has been more entrepreneurial in going after grants and contracts,'' Johnson said.
Johnson said Extension can remain an unbiased provider of information.