Defining the Mission of Virginia Cooperative Extension: An Interpretative Analysis From a Historical Perspective

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Virginia Tech

The study is an interpretative analysis of Virginia Cooperative Extension that examined the mission of the agency, as defined through its history and enabling acts of legislation. The study investigated how the mission has evolved during the eighty-four years of its existence. The study used the intent and context of the federal Smith-Lever legislation of 1914 as its benchmark to discover what the desired and anticipated outcomes were for Cooperative Extension by the original patrons of the legislation. Subsequent legislative acts at both the state and federal levels, as well as actions by the executive branch of government, were studied to discover if and when the mission of cooperative extension has changed and to identify the political, economic, and social factors that influenced the changes.

The study incorporated accepted methods of historical research and included the review and analysis of both primary and secondary sources of information. Interviews of key leaders who have influenced the policy position of Virginia Cooperative Extension over the past thirty years were conducted.

The data gathered by the study were analyzed and presented to highlight major themes that could have influenced critical policy issues that have confronted Virginia Cooperative Extension. The conclusion is that the mission of extension is two fold: (1) to provide education that could lead to increased economic opportunity and, (2) to enhance the quality of life enjoyed by Virginia’s citizens.

Three critical attributes are identified that relate to the ability of Virginia Cooperative Extension to fulfill its mission: (1) access to research-based information, (2) a strong presence in local communities, and (3) a capacity to provide timely responses to emerging issues.

cooperative extension, Smith-Lever Act, land-grant university