Advocacy and Education Toolkit

                         You are the window through which your legislator sees Extension.                                Colleen Bates, Eau-Claire County, Wisconsin Board Member and Extension Advocate


The Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) is the representative leadership and governing body of the Cooperative Extension System, the nationwide transformational education system operating through Land-grant Universities in partnership with federal, state, and local governments. ECOP focuses on four core themes: 1) Build partnerships and acquire resources; 2) Increase strategic marketing and communications; 3) Enhance leadership and professional development, and 4) Strengthen organizational functioning.

ECOP’s Budget and Legislative Committee has developed this Advocacy and Education Toolkit to provide ECOP leadership and the Cooperative Extension System (CES) with consistent messaging and resources focused on CES advocacy and education priorities. These resources include priority language, talking points, and CES background information for consistency in messaging with APLU Board on Agriculture Assembly (BAA) Committees and Sections, the BAA Experiment Station Committee on Organization and Policy ESCOP, legislators, partners, University Congressional and Government Affairs staff, and related advocacy groups. Look to these links for additional information: Farm Bill Process2018 Farm BillRelated Legislation, How Laws Are Made, and the Federal Budget Process.

About Us

All universities engage in research and teaching, but the nation’s 112 Land-grant Universities and Colleges, including Historically Black Land-grant Universities and Tribal Colleges, have a third critical mission—Extension. “Extension” means reaching out and extending university research and resources to meet public needs through non-formal educational programs at the community level. The Cooperative Extension System (CES) engages people in these educational opportunities to help them solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future where they live and work.

With thousands of Land-grant University and county-based Extension employees and over 2 million volunteers, CES crosses every state and U.S. territory. Working with a network of public and private organizations, CES brings science-based resources to the people and communities who need them most. Find Extension Programs Across the Nation.

Advocacy Topics

Board on Agriculture Assembly Unified Ask

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Climate Mitigation, Resiliency, and Adaptation

Economic and Workforce Development

Health Equity & Well-Being

Positive Youth Development

Urban Ag and Food Systems

Broadband Access and Digital Skills

Nutrition Education and SNAP-Ed

Board on Agriculture Assembly
Unified Ask

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) represents 244 public universities and is comprised of various Commissions, Boards, and Sections. One of the most prominent and legislatively active APLU organizations is the Board on Agriculture Assembly (BAA), which represents the interests of Land-grant Colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and related institutions, including the Cooperative Extension System (CES). Information on BAA advocacy efforts is located at The Cooperative Extension Section of the BAA fully and primarily supports the annual BAA Unified Ask.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


Vast inequities exist among different racial and ethnic groups, touching lives across many sectors and impacting quality of life. These inequities include income, educational attainment, healthcare access, food security, home ownership, and broadband connectivity.  Each of these impact length of life, safety/security, and a sense of well-being for individuals and families in direct ways.  As a result, the color of a person’s skin or ethnic identity is a fairly good predictor of life outcomes, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) consistently falling behind their White counterparts.  Similar divides exist over issues of gender, religious affiliation, native language, and abilities, with each quality having groups that are marginalized and others that are not.  How do we change our nation’s path forward so that marginalized individuals can securely achieve the quality of life standards with the same ease as those that are of a dominant group?

Closing the DEI Gap

Communities narrowing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) gaps can advance quality of life for all their members.  When those struggling to survive in the community thrive, the whole community benefits as trust increases and community assets (social, human, financial, built, political, cultural, natural) are advanced. However, choosing to maintain the “status quo” ensures a downward spiral in which divides continue, or more likely, increase inequities and continue to create burdens that all bear.

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The Cooperative Extension System’s (CES) 100+ year history of working to meet the identified needs of individuals and communities is advanced through county Extension offices.  This embedded network can effectively link local needs to university resources. CES is often viewed as a trusted resource at the local level, positioning staff as collaborators, partners, and convenors for difficult conversations.  Through dialogue, trust is built, paving the way for genuine, honest conversations and unpacking layers of silence which serve to stall meaningful progress.  CES can work with communities to organize, convene, and facilitate relevant dialogues among diverse groups, so that together, informed decisions can be made about removing past barriers and building new opportunities for the future.  Building on trust, CES can bring resources through its multi-disciplined approaches to support building wealth by helping to educate families on estate planning and preventing/resolving heirs’ property; closing the digital divide by teaching digital skills; supporting health through guidance on nutrition, exercise, and chronic health prevention/management; guiding socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers in farm management decision-making; guiding youth toward social and workforce skills and careers resulting in economic independence; empowering communities to identify and leverage community assets; and building capacity among disadvantaged groups to develop, use, and appreciate their voice.  Examples include: Coming Together for Racial Understanding, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 4-H, Heir Property Network, True Leaders in Equity Institute, 4-H Tech Changemakers, Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, 1890 Centers of Excellence, Juntos Program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), Extension Disaster Education Network, and the Rural Online Initiative.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

CES is making a real difference through Coming Together for Racial Understanding dialogues that build trust across divides and inform place-based action plans. CES Agriculture and Natural Resources programs guide socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers toward developing thriving enterprises and advancing wealth.  Resolving/preventing heir’s property issues is one aspect of this.  4-H Youth Development efforts, such as Tech Changemakers and STEAM education, are preparing youth to attain valuable leadership and workforce skills.  Family and Consumer Science programs, such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) are advancing healthy lifestyles, guiding adoption of good financial management practices, promoting positive parenting, and fostering small business development. Community Resource Development efforts promote leadership development, entrepreneurship, and community asset management/leveraging and planning. Each of these areas are examples of where CES is making a difference on issues where the nation is struggling with DEI divides.  CES is well positioned to advance successful work already underway towards even greater impact in the future.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Increased resources to support CES efforts have great potential for closing the DEI gap.  For instance, expanding the reach of Historically Black and Tribal Land-grant Universities that have specific missions of reaching underserved audiences put tools directly in the hands of those most at-risk.  Additionally, growing the CES workforce numbers and capacity allows for the expansion of community dialogue-to-change efforts, advancing programs with proven track-records, embedding deeper support for communities through community coaches, and facilitating demonstrable models of community asset building strategies.  CES is well positioned to manage place-based funding to launch promising innovations identified through community dialogues.  Finally, CES can guide the development of a national research initiative to explore efficacy of local innovations and implications for future policy related to DEI.


Climate Mitigation, Resiliency,
and Adaptation


Even as our Nation emerges from profound public health and economic crises borne of a pandemic, we face a climate crisis that threatens our people and communities, public health and economy, and, starkly, our ability to live on planet Earth.-Presidential Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the northern hemisphere experienced its hottest summer on record in 2020. We are already experiencing the consequential impacts of a warming planet, and NOAA clarifies, these impacts extend well beyond an increase in temperature, affecting ecosystems and communities in the United States (US) and around the world.

All sectors of life are impacted including water, human health, ecosystem health, agriculture, wildlife, transportation, air, and energy. Since 1980, the US has experienced 279 Climate and Extreme Weather (C/EW) disasters with total costs exceeding $1 billion. The combined costs of all these disasters exceeded $1.825 trillion. Between 1980 and 2019, the annual average number of C/EW disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion in the US was 6.6; yet, there were a record-breaking 22 in 2020.

As the outreach arm of the 112 national Land Grant institutions, including those representing and serving historically underserved communities, we have a responsibility to change our nation’s path forward by leading with programming and partnerships that directly address climate change adaptation, mitigation, and resilience. Cooperative Extension will develop and implement programs that strengthen climate and social resilience by emphasizing building relationships of trust as a foundation for partnership in the co-creation of knowledge and responsive programming

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The Cooperative Extension System has over 200 unique programs that address aspects of climate education including mitigation, resilience, and adaptation.  When factoring in programming around water conservation, nutrient management, nutrition, energy, animal agriculture and other programs that indirectly tie to climate change, that number would likely jump 10-fold. Cooperative Extension has the capacity to engage communities in important dialogue, and the educational resources to affect change across a spectrum of diverse audiences including rural, urban, and underserved groups.  Examples include:  Extension Disaster Education Network, Tipping Point Planner, Weather Ready Farms, Sustainable Development Initiatives, Water Conservation ProgramsSeptic System Resources, Climate Adaptation Academy, Extension Climate Outreach Team, and Teens Reaching Youth for the Environment. 

Our climate change priority areas include lifting up and creating new adaptation, mitigation, and resilience programming and funding opportunities to address:

  • Climate-Smart Agriculture & Food Systems – Cooperative Extension will support the adaptation, mitigation, and resilience of U.S. agriculture to climate change. Helping farmers, ranchers, and landowners develop and adopt climate-sensitive practices will improve the profitability and sustainability of plant and animal systems across the rural-urban spectrum. These practices will develop adequate and safe food systems as supply chains strain under shifting climate conditions. In addition, Extension programs will help expand a climate responsive workforce in U.S. communities.  
  • Climate-Resilient Communities – Cooperative Extension will work with communities across the rural-urban spectrum to develop climate responsive plans to support transitioning to climate resilient communities. The plans will focus on the development of strategies that communities can deploy to strengthen the adaption, mitigation, and resilience to climate change. In addition, these plans would also focus on supporting communities as they develop risk management plans surrounding natural disasters – fires, floods, rising temperatures, and increased incidence of extreme weather events.
  • Ecosystem Services – Cooperative Extension will promote nature-based and natural climate solutions that provide co-benefits for mitigation and adaptation across human and natural communities. Extension will support the protection of healthy ecosystems, natural areas and resources amid changing climates. Translational research and Extension programs focused on adaptation, mitigation, and resilience can help reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and forest production. In addition, climate smart management practices for our forests, waterways, and other natural habitats will reduce the negative impacts of climate change on ecosystems and human communities. Mitigation practices will include efforts such as carbon markets and alternative energy development to sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to help inform and educate the public on these concepts.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

Effective Cooperative Extension climate educators meet people where they are, engage audiences and clientele in authentic and mutually beneficial ways, and create safe and productive spaces for facilitating participatory decision-making. Employing these leadership traits and laying this foundation during the earliest phases of work proves critical for long-term programmatic success, especially given the widespread politicization of climate science and issues that persist. Extension currently provides tools for communities to develop cost-effective climate sensitive management plans, tools for farmers to make climate sensitive agronomic decisions, and provides municipalities with information and tools to help them adapt to a changing climate.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Climate change affects all communities and ethnic groups, and often those in the most underserved communities are impacted the most severely.  Environmental equitability must be a driving force behind any climate efforts. Success rests upon the relationship-building between Extension and the communities and clientele for whom programs and products are developed and delivered. Within and outside of the Cooperative Extension System, collaboration and partnerships are consistently named as keys of climate program success. With additional funding and resources, Cooperative Extension can scale up vital local projects to a national scale.

Contact: National Extension Climate Initiative and Extension Climate Team

Resource Documents:

Economic and Workforce Development


The Land-grant university System may not be the first institution that comes to mind when you think of our country’s historical link to economic and workforce development. But its connection to improving county or rural life and ultimately its workforce goes back many years to the early 1900s.

Today, Extension Educators are taking both systems-driven and audience-driven approaches to supporting economic and workforce development. Extension programs serve youth audiences, adult audiences, new populations, and vulnerable populations.

How is the Cooperative Extension System Responding?

Extension professionals have historically relied on timely research-based content and interpersonal and group-process skills to make the connection with the people they serve. The knowledge base has mirrored the evolving needs of society, from the initial adoption of new farm practices to today’s inclusion of youth-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) opportunities (Gould, Steele, and Woodrum 2014). These can be easily seen in Extension’s work with youth career readiness, in specific areas such as robotics, and in human and animal health. Interpersonal and group process skills have also had to evolve from the early field demonstration projects with agents as group organizers to current Web-based sessions and applications using real-time interaction (Peters 2002).

Efforts to strengthen and expand workforce skills have historically been addressed by Cooperative Extension in several ways. For example, a specific need, such as technology training, has been incorporated into various program areas (Elbert and Alston 2005). Another approach has been to target a particular workforce area, such as child-care, food service safety, or production agriculture, and to provide knowledge and skills training (Durden et al. 2013). Often these workforce areas look to the Extension as a way to gain or maintain standards necessary for certification in their field. Still another avenue has been to focus on a segment of the population, such as youth, and provide career opportunities (Rockwell, Stohler, and Rudman 1984) or to work with low-resource families and identify needed support and services (Bowman, Manoogian, and Driscoll 2002). For example, many Extension staff work with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that helps people lead healthier lives by understanding the fundamentals of good nutrition, how to make food dollars stretch further, and how to be physically active to maintain health and well-being. These three aspects are fundamental to develop a healthy and productive workforce. Additionally, in the early 1990s the Extension model was used in the development of the national Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, a tool for providing small rural manufacturers the same access to academic innovations and resulting knowledge as the traditional Extension program had done with agriculture (Maher and Spencer 1997).

What Difference is Cooperative Extension Making?

There a number of ways Extension is making a difference in this arena. Some examples include: Regional Rural Development Centers (RRDCs) are a trusted source of economic and community development data, decision tools, education, and guidance for our nation’s rural communities. Collectively, the Centers form a one-stop-shop connection to the nationwide network of Land-grant Universities and the Cooperative Extension System. Each Center serves a U.S. region and taps its Land-grant University network to form innovative research and Extension partnerships in the area of rural development. Together, the Regional Rural Development Centers help rural communities make science-based decisions about their community and economic development investments. The Centers currently focus on strengthening rural economies, promoting quality of life, supporting a rural workforce, harnessing technological innovation, and promoting e-connectivity for rural America.

Extension’s Pesticide Safety and Certifications is a successful collaboration of Extension with pesticide producers, the EPA and the Extension Foundation to deliver commercial and noncommercial applicators training and certification to safely apply pesticides. EPA supports Land-grant University Pesticide Safety Education Programs (PSEPs) for the education and training of certified pesticide applicators. PSEPs provide pesticide applicator training on the safe use of restricted use pesticides by applicators in agricultural, commercial, and residential settings.

Other examples include Youth Programs: INWork – INnovate, INvest, INspire – Skills for Tomorrow’s Workforce program ( and Adult Programs:  At Your Service: Working with Multicultural Customers

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

The sheer scale of economic and work force development challenges requires scalable programs that can be used across diverse locales and cultures, to speed economic recovery; kickstart new businesses; leverage new and emerging technologies; and retool the workforce to meet the skills needs of new industries. The Cooperative Extension System is well positioned to build upon existing and new partnerships to build inclusive, resilient, sustainable communities and economies. Instrumental in this process are local offices of Cooperative Extension embracing the role of fostering space for entrepreneurship, small business development, and other economic and workforce development opportunities in ways that no other national agency or organization is prepared to do. With additional resources and new partnerships, Cooperative Extension can lead efforts in connecting key community support organizations to truly take advantage of the education, resources, and opportunities within each community. Through its mission, Cooperative Extension is equipped to deliver a 360-degree approach that would allow for inclusion of education for youth and families to assist in creating economically viable and sustainable communities.



Cooperative Extension’s Past and Present Investment in Workforce Development (PDF)

Health Equity & Well-Being


Life expectancy in the United States is declining.  Accelerated by COVID-19, a multi-year downward trend in life expectancy continued in 2021, with life expectancy at birth plummeting to the lowest rate in two decades at just 77 years of age. Despite the impact of SARS-CoV-2 infections, heart disease remained the leading cause of death in the United States in 2021, driven by sedentary lifestyles, improper diet, and an adult obesity rate of more than 40%.  Meanwhile, the United States spends a greater portion of its GDP on health care than any nation in the world but the gap in life expectancy between the United States and other peer countries is widening. This current health crisis not only threatens the health of individuals but also threatens the economy, national security, and social order.

Since its early days, the Cooperative Extension System (CES) has played an important role in improving the health of the nation. Much of that early work focused on promoting healthy behaviors. Since then, we have learned that the context in which people live has a far greater impact on their overall health than their personal health behaviors.

While we must all accept personal responsibility for doing what we can to maintain and improve our own health, we as a nation must act now to eliminate the obstacles that many people face in their efforts to achieve optimal health. Among those experiencing the greatest number of obstacles are people of color and those living in the most urban and the most rural areas of the country.

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

Translating the health-related knowledge of the land grant university system in ways that help people make healthy choices will remain a part of Cooperative Extension’s work. But with only 30% of an individual’s health being determined by their behaviors, a more comprehensive approach to improving population health is needed. 

Cooperative Extension’s National Framework for Health Equity and Well-Being  emphasizes a dual approach for Cooperative Extension’s health-focused work.  One dimension of that work involves continued efforts to help individuals make healthy choices.  The other involves engaging with residents of a community to identify and address the barriers and challenges to achieving optimal health.  Efforts are currently underway to provide Extension faculty and staff with the training they need to facilitate place-based processes that help communities thrive. The goal of these efforts is to ensure that residents have access to such things as jobs, humane housing, education, preventive health services, healthy foods, safe streets, and clean water.

This upstream work in no way replaces the work of local health departments or healthcare professionals, but rather focuses on shaping the context in which people live their lives

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

By incorporating community development principles and practices into its health-related work, Cooperative Extension and its partners are transforming communities in ways that promote the health and well-being of their residents.  Meanwhile Cooperative Extension, also is providing residents of these communities with science-based information they need to make healthy choices. The result is a thriving population that is less likely to experience chronic disease, is more resilient to future health threats, and is less dependent upon emergency health services.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Some Extension staff are currently being provided with the training they need to support collective action in communities.  Still, the number of communities Cooperative Extension can serve is limited by the number of faculty and staff that it can deploy in its county offices.  Resources are needed to hire additional Extension staff who already have the knowledge and skills needed to support the transformation to a place-based approach to improving health.

Moreover, many land grant universities do not have dedicated faculty leads who can coordinate and support a systemwide transition to a more place-based orientation Cooperative Extension’s work. Such responsibilities are currently an add-on to individuals with other responsibilities.


Positive Youth Development


4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, empowering nearly six million young people with the skills to lead for a lifetime. 

4-H is delivered by the Cooperative Extension System (CES), a community of more than 110 Land-grant Universities that provide experiences where young people learn by doing. 4-H’s depth and reach are unmatched, serving youth in every corner of America – from urban neighborhoods to suburban schoolyards to rural farming communities and tribal communities. Youth experience 4-H in every county and parish in the country through in-school, after-school programs, community clubs and 4-H camps.

Through the application of 4-H Positive Youth Development (PYD), youth complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture, and civic engagement in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on leadership roles.

Closing the Opportunity Gap for Youth

81% of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S., and 64% of teens believe that the experience of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on their generation’s mental health [1]. While there is a lot we do not yet know about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, social isolation, economic challenges, and ongoing social unrest, we do know this unprecedented combination of events requires a commitment to address the opportunity gap and respond to youth challenges.

The opportunity gap describes how the circumstances in which people are born and live determine their opportunities in life. The widening opportunity gap across the nation is affected by four key elements – race, ethnicity, ZIP code and socio-economic status.

Positive youth development through the 4-H program plays an important role in closing the opportunity gap and mitigating systemic challenges in three key areas our young people are struggling with – mental health, education, and employability  

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The 4-H Youth Development program enables youth to thrive by providing spaces in which youth can explore their interests and passions while building relationships with caring adults.

The Cooperative Extension system develops 4-H programs that provide experiences promoting the advancement of youth in the following areas:  

  • Academic Achievement and Motivation
  • High Personal Standards
  • Contributions to Community and Civically Involvement
  • Connection with Others and Sense of Belonging
  • Personal Responsibility

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

The 4-H model of positive youth development has driven new thinking and approaches to youth development around the world for decades. Preeminent youth development scholars at the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University partnered with Land-grant universities to conduct research, which showed that the structured out-of-school learning, leadership experiences and adult mentoring that young people receive through 4-H plays a vital role in helping them achieve success. 4-H’ers are nearly 4 times more likely to make contributions to their communities and almost 2 times more likely to be civically active.

Cooperative Extension continues to expand the ways 4-H contributes to the high-quality positive development of youth. In addition, Cooperative Extension develops research-based professional development opportunities for all youth development professionals and volunteers.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

The Cooperative Extension’s Smith-Lever, 1890 Extension, and Extension 1994 systems need additional funding to create change and reach new and diverse youth. Federal resources are needed to assure that program staff in rural, urban, suburban, and tribal settings are sufficiently prepared, culturally competent, and adequately supported. 

With new resources, Cooperative Extension’s 4-H youth development program can expand our movement towards bringing together communities, organizations, government, educators, and young people to promote positive outcomes for youth.

4-H is the Youth Development Organization of our Nation’s Cooperative Extension System and USDA.


Contact: ECOP 4-H Leadership Committee:

4-H At-A-Glance

Download 4-H At-A-Glance (PDF)

Urban Ag and Food Systems



Urban agriculture  and food systems comprises inner-city small farms, community and school gardens; backyard and rooftop horticulture, innovative food-growing methods maximizing yields in small areas, and controlled environment agriculture. Urban Agriculture includes farms supplying urban farmers markets and farm stands, community-supported agriculture buying clubs, and family farms located in metropolitan green belts near urban centers.

Urban Agriculture is immensely important because people growing food and forestry (small orchards and street trees) in stewarded spaces create safer places, a sense of ownership by beautification, can express cultural heritage and identity, memorialize people and histories, promote public health, healing, stress reduction, trauma management and improve environmental quality.

Growing Urban Agriculture to Cultivate Resilience 

Populations in the United States continue to migrate from rural to urban and suburban communities. This has and will continue to shift the strength of the Cooperative Extension System’s (CES) legislative support. Urban citizens benefit from the research-based food production, nutrition, and development programs, and data that Cooperative Extension programs offer, and current programs can be expanded. Extension supported, replicated, or initiated programs and data:

  1. Catalyze urban and rural farmer partnerships
  2. Bridge production gaps through shared values
  3. Reinforcing local/regional economies
  4. Leverage supply chains
  5. Enhance small market outlets 

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The innovation and creativity of Extension professionals is demonstrated in efforts to eliminate food deserts, address racial injustices and build new businesses, teach youth workforce skills, build community, teach nutrition and promote healthy diets, and working toward greening America’s cities – fighting impacts of climate change while supporting mental health.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

The Cooperative Extension System, which built the most powerful agricultural production system in the world and continues to support rural America, has the power to transform and up-scale urban agriculture. Land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension System stand ready to address the long-identified needs in urban agriculture. With offices in most U.S. counties, Cooperative Extension can become an even more trusted source of expertise, information, and inclusion for urban populations.

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Land-grant Universities and CES stand ready to address the long-identified needs in urban agriculture, but not implemented due to limited funding. Additional funding would allow CES to scale up its urban agriculture capacity, leverage existing local, state, and federal funding for transforming food access, sovereignty, and workforce development while strengthening urban-rural economics by: 

  • Supporting the expansion of local promising practices to a national scale.
  • Adapting research conducted outside of urban areas for urban audiences, including non-English speaking populations.
  • Translating research and educational program short info-sheets into other languages.
  • Sharing on land access models.
  • Developing urban farmer networks to serve as catalysts to convene existing groups, develop collective projects, and to help with urban food system-diversity, equity, and inclusion. 


National Urban Extension Leaders

Western Center for Metropolitan Cooperative Extension and Research

Broadband Access and Digital Skills


Reliable high-speed internet service has become an integral piece of America’s infrastructure. Yet, too many in both rural and urban parts of the nation still do not have access to reliable, affordable service. This limited access to broadband and proficiency in the related essential digital skills is impacting economic opportunities, healthcare access, and education outcomes for young people, families, small businesses, and communities.

Closing the Digital Opportunity Gap 

It is hard to overstate the challenges of living today without the internet, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we shift our daily lives to an on-line environment to meet social distancing requirements, millions are teleworking, student learning has transitioned to online engagement, non-emergency doctor visits have shifted to virtual, and even social and daily routines have gone virtual. In the midst of this shift to online, imagine losing access to essential services such as visiting a government office to file for social security, unemployment, or renewing a driver’s license; visiting a doctor, giving your children access to a quality education; or having the ability to safely shop for groceries, prescriptions, or other essential needs. Without access to broadband, these everyday tasks become insurmountable challenges.  Furthermore, many families cannot maintain their income when the option to telework is not available. This leaves residents without good internet service at a severe economic disadvantage. While some of these activities will switch back to an in-person mode once the pandemic has eased, some of this shift will be permanent. Those without reliable, affordable broadband access and the skills needed to use it safely will suffer further economic and social inequity. Closing the digital opportunity gap requires not only affordable internet access, but also the awareness, education, and training to use it safely and effectively. 

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

The Cooperative Extension System (CES) provides trusted, practical education, to help people, businesses, and communities solve problems, develop skills, and build a better future. Campus-based faculty members are disciplinary specialists whose primary responsibility is to develop curricula that translates science-based research results into language (written, verbal, and electronic) appropriate for targeted audiences. County-based Extension Educators work with local community members to solve problems, evaluate the effectiveness of learning tools, and collect grassroots input to prioritize future research. By living and working in communities, County Educators respond to local needs, build trust, and engage effectively with citizens through non-formal outreach education and engagement.

CES is working hard to address the digital opportunity gap. Long before the coronavirus became an immediate threat to the ability of millions to keep up with work, education, and health care, Extension Specialists and Educators recognized the importance of the digital divide and took action to address digital equity. These actions included education programs that raise awareness about the benefits of broadband, convening stakeholders to assist with strategic planning, assessing digital inclusion, feasibility studies, stakeholder input, and technical assistance with writing grant proposals. CES also provided training for community members and businesses about how to safely and effectively use online tools to improve their economic opportunities, access resources, and improve their quality of life. 

Many of these programs have been effectively implemented in collaboration with community partners.  A few examples include: National 4-H Council 4-H Tech Changemakers, North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service resources and training in broadband access, adoption, and utilization, Purdue University Digital Ready Business, Oklahoma State University Extension and local library partnerships to provide hotspots, Nebraska Broadband Initiative, Washington State University Extension Broadband Action Team, Utah State University Rural Online Initiative, Mississippi State University Bricks-to-Clicks, and the University of Wisconsin Extension Community Development Institute. CES is also partnering with the Land O’Lakes American Connection Project and the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition on these efforts.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

By helping residents, businesses, and communities adopt broadband tools, CES is supporting resilience and productivity for rural residents and businesses.  Multiple studies demonstrate the potential impact of broadband on economic vitality, including a recent study by the FCC linking broadband access with increased farm productivity. Small businesses benefit from building an online presence and a recent study demonstrated the valuable role of Extension educators in digital literacy programming to assist small businesses take advantage of those benefits. Another study has shown the importance of Extension in influencing household internet adoption. 

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

Increased fiscal resources are needed to update and expand existing curricula, train additional staff to build capacity for broadband work, and to further evaluate programs in place. Additional CES staff could also assist local communities in planning to help identify and leverage opportunities for broadband access and adoption.  This includes convening relevant partners to ensure that federal funding is leveraging other efforts and coordinating with important partners such as state broadband offices and agricultural stakeholders such as the Farm Bureau.  

Contact: National Digital Education Extension Team, coordinated through the Southern Rural Development Center

Nutrition Education and SNAP-Ed


The Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program Education, or SNAP-Ed, provides nutrition education and obesity prevention programming to those eligible for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. As populations with low income and food insecurity are at risk for a number of diet related diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, these efforts are critical to creating healthy people and healthy communities.

SNAP-Ed through the Cooperative Extension System (CES) combines the best attributes of a strong national network of research institutions and local programming. Land-grant Universities (LGUs) bring a unique three-component structure of research, education, and Extension in the form of outreach. LGU SNAP-Ed programs are deeply embedded in the communities they serve. This education helps people and communities solve problems, build capacity, and create a better future.

How is the Cooperative Extension System responding?

There are 58 land-grant universities representing 48 states and Guam providing SNAP-Ed as a formal implementing agency. SNAP-Ed is implemented in partnership with national, state, and local partners, including the USDA Food and Nutrition Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, state agencies, and nonprofits. Additionally, SNAP-Ed partners with Extension programs such as the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), 4-H, and Master Gardeners to leverage the capacity and expertise within the Extension System. More information on how SNAP-Ed and EFNEP complement one another to increase reach and improve the nutritional health of populations with low income can be found in this handout (PDF)

LGU SNAP-Ed programs strive to create positive behavior change from the bottom up, from the top down, and all points in between. To do this, SNAP-Ed is implemented through three main channels:

  • Nutrition education
  • Policy, systems, and environmental (PSE) approaches
  • Social marketing

SNAP-Ed has historically been a nutrition education program which provides nutrition and physical activity related education to individuals from preschool age through older adulthood. LGUs utilize hands-on, researched-based curricula on topics such as cooking and gardening to teach individuals the importance of eating healthy and staying active.

To create positive change at the population level, LGU SNAP-Ed programs utilize public health and structural interventions. These approaches – Policy, Systems, and Environmental (PSE) changes – improves aspects of environments in which people live, learn, work, play, shop, and eat. PSEs influence the community in holistic ways, by addressing nutrition, health, and physical activity behaviors through changes in policies, systems, and the built environment.

Finally, social marketing strategies are increasingly used in LGU SNAP-Ed programs to widely disseminate educational messages and encourage population change. They combine commercial marketing with public health approaches. Methods may include a social media presence and campaigns; websites; paid or public service advertising (PSAs); and earned media.

Together, these channels of SNAP-Ed delivery result in reaching individuals, families, and communities where SNAP-eligible individuals live, learn, work, play, shop, and eat.

LGU SNAP-Ed combines the best aspects of a powerful national network of research and education institutions with a relevant, trusted local partner that is deeply embedded in the communities served. LGU SNAP-Ed programs are the bridge between local issues and innovative answers through the power of LGU research.

What difference is Cooperative Extension making?

A report1 of federal fiscal year 2019 LGU SNAP-Ed impacts include:

  • 1.7 million people reached directly through nutrition education efforts
  • 25,000 delivery sites nationally, including daycares, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, food banks, and farmers markets
  • 40% of participants increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and decreased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages as a result of SNAP-Ed
  • 60% of participants utilized food resource management techniques to save money after attending SNAP-Ed classes
  • 3 million people reached through PSE approaches
  • 6,000 nutrition and 1,700 physical activity PSE changes implemented
  • 24 unique social marketing campaigns generated an estimated 27 million impressions

For more information on the impacts of LGU SNAP-Ed programs, please visit our website

What can be done with additional resources and partnerships?

LGUs who are currently conducting SNAP-Ed and those who are not would benefits from increased financial resources and expanding partnerships, allowing for increased services and greater community impact. The need for obesity prevention services targeting populations with low income often exceeds the capacity of LGUs under current funding allocations, a gap that could be filled by expanding the fiscal resources available. Increased funding would allow for greater reach into vulnerable communities through existing LGU SNAP-Ed programs, as well as increased participation by 1890 and 1994 LGUs, allowing for a targeted approach to better reach African American and Tribal communities.

Contact: Contact Lauren Sweeney, LGU SNAP-Ed PDT Assistant at or visit our website at

1 Yetter, D., Tripp, S. (2020). SNAP-Ed FY 2019: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education through the Land-Grant University System. Retrieved from

Extension 101

Extension 101 provides a brief overview of the Cooperative Extension System’s history and current efforts. These slides can downloaded and used by Extension professionals and interested others in communicating the history and power of Extension. Special appreciation is extended to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Communications Office for allowing us to adapt their Extension history slides for this purpose.

Extension Infographic

This Cooperative Extension infographic provides information on Extension’s philosophy, funding, and what makes the System unique. The infographic can downloaded and used by Extension professionals and interested others in communicating priorities, messaging, and the value of Extension. The back of the infographic can be tailored to state or local level Extension priorities and other communication needs.

Data and Resources

AgIsAmerica is an initiative of APLU’s Board on Agriculture Assembly that highlights how public and land-grant universities are advancing agriculture to feed our communities and the world, discover climate-smart solutions, strengthen our rural and the national economy, and safeguard public health.  Increased federal investments in agricultural research, education & Extension is critical solve today’s challenges and create a bright future.

The Land-grant University System is a uniquely American institution and has operated successfully for more than a century. The National Impact Database documents and demonstrates the collective and individual impacts of this national system of joint teaching, research, and extension institutions. Members of the general public can learn more about the public value of Land-grant Universities. Authorized employees of Land-grant institutions can also access the database, which allows them to create impact statements and view/edit benchmarking data for their institution.

The USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Impacts resource provides success stories that demonstrate groundbreaking discoveries and societal impacts of the Cooperative Extension System and Land-grant Universities. Also available from NIFA is a Data Gateway which provides data and metrics by recent funding awards, Congressional District, Knowledge Areas, Subject of Investigation, Field of Science, and award trends.

National 4‑H Council (Council) is the private sector, non-profit partner of Cooperative Extension (Extension) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Council was created by Cooperative Extension and works in collaboration with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) and the ECOP 4-H Leadership Committee to support national initiatives of the 4-H program that are not led by USDA nor by Cooperative Extension and the individual land-grant institutions. Council supports Extension’s goal to reach millions more young people.

The Extension Foundation is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is a partner to Cooperative Extension and provides programmatic services and other resources to the system. The National Registry of Cooperative Extension Programs and Assets is supported in part through USDA-NIFA’s New Technologies for Ag Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 and managed by the Foundation with the intent to serve Extension, Research, and Evaluation as a living database of existing programs, projects, efforts, and resources to reduce duplication of work and increase awareness of efforts throughout the system.