U Extension program closes two offices

University of Minnesota Extension, a program that brings research to Minnesotans outside the U, is closing two offices in order to cut costs.

U Extension program closes two offices

Jill Jensen

In an attempt to save money without cutting staff, University of Minnesota Extension closed a regional office in Albert Lea Wednesday and another is slated to close in December. Extension was started at the University of Minnesota in 1909 to bring the results of research performed at the University to communities throughout the state, which then apply the findings to real-world situations. Last year it helped educate 45,000 low-income families on ways to eat nutritiously on a tight budget and this past summer played a pivotal role in combating the emerald ash borer. These are a few examples of ExtensionâÄôs wide array of programs, ranging from agriculture to economics. It functions as a college within the University and, after the Albert Lea branch closes, operates 17 regional offices and more than 80 county offices around the state. A regional office in Mora is scheduled to close on Dec. 30. âÄúWe like to say that Extension is the front door to the University,âÄù said Bev Durgan, dean of Extension . The budget shortfall resulted from a $1.7 million cut in state funding, a decrease of about 5.6 percent from last yearâÄôs ExtensionâÄôs state allocation, Durgan said. âÄúI happen to think these jobs, once theyâÄôre gone, theyâÄôre gone. TheyâÄôre kind of like low-hanging fruit for budget people to say, âÄòyou know what, we need to cut the budget, weâÄôre going to cut here,âÄôâÄù said Wayne Schoper , an Extension educator specializing in agriculture. Raeth said most people probably wonâÄôt notice a change and the closing of the Albert Lea and Mora offices are expected to save Extension about $100,000 . Cuts have also hit the Extension program on a county level. Controversy flared in Brown County recently when officials considered cutting ShoperâÄôs Extension position with the county. Farmers working with Schoper, who works in both Brown and Nicollet counties, started a petition to keep him employed. Brown County still plans to cut ShoperâÄôs position at the end of the year. âÄúWeâÄôre [Extension workers] the ones who are out there [using] unbiased, research-based information that we get from the University of Minnesota,âÄù Schoper said. âÄúFarmers use us to make decisions that affect their bottom line every day.âÄù This is not the first time Extension has had to cut costs. In 2004 Extension went through a major restructuring, moving from a county-based system to a system that functions at the county and regional levels, Raeth said. Other extension programs run by universities in Ohio, Iowa and Michigan are also facing budget deficits and implementing plans to restructure their programs, said Julie Christenson, ExtensionâÄôs communications director. While the restructuring in 2004 buffered the University from having to make the significant changes other state universities are facing, it may not be enough if the cuts continue. âÄúIf we have to take more budget cuts, we just may have to think about whether we want to put our money in offices or whether we need to continue to put our money in people,âÄù Durgan said.