When President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act on May 18, 1914, he called it “one of the most significant and far-reaching measures for the education of adults ever adopted by the government”. Its purpose clearly stated by Congress was “to aid in diffusing among the people of the United States useful and practical information on subjects related to agriculture and home economics, and to encourage the application of the same”. The underlying principle of the system was to “help people help themselves” by “taking the university to the people”. The system evolved into an institution that is responsive to priority needs and focuses its resources on providing quality information, education, and problem-solving on real concerns.
The Cooperative Extension system today is a unique achievement in American education. Many countries have tried to copy it, but it is yet to be duplicated. It is an agency for change and for problem-solving, a catalyst for individual and group action with the history of over 90 years of public education and service. Extension brings the reward of higher education into the lives of all segments of our communities (Wayne D. Rasmussen, Taking the University to the People, 1989).
We have been told that we live in an age of information, a knowledge age. There is more information available to us on a daily basis than we can probably ever digest in a lifetime. And yet, sometimes the quality and quantity of that information can be suspect. How can we know for certain which websites, television programs, and printed publications are giving us the kind of credible information we need to make healthy, productive, and life-long impacts for ourselves, our families, and our communities?
The Cooperative Extension system is one of the few trusted sources for such information. The programs offered through Cornell Cooperative Extension are based on unbiased research. The full credibility of Cornell University, as well as other land-grant institutions and partners throughout the United States, is brought to every rural and urban community in New York State. And it’s not just about agriculture and home economics anymore. Cooperative Extension delivers programming in youth development, life skills, nutrition and health, agricultural sustainability, environmental education, job skills, and community development. Sometimes it’s one-on-one. Other times it’s in a workshop, group or meeting. Sometimes it’s in a classroom, or in a field, or on the phone. It’s an educator or program assistant, or a volunteer. Sometimes it’s via satellite or on the web. It really doesn’t matter, because it’s all about broadening knowledge. Cooperative Extension is the door to knowledge in your neighborhood. It has stood the test of time for over 90 years. And even though times change, the need for knowledge never does.
Last updated May 14, 2021