UNIVERSITY PARK - Because Penn State Extension relies on the state budget - and on county commissioners for another significant chunk of funding - the organization has to remind state legislators and other elected officials how important it is to their constituents.
That's part of the impetus for the legislative update each April, which follows a day in which extension employees, board members and other supporters travel to Harrisburg to make a pitch for continued funding.
How important is the extension? For farmers, it can be critical - and because all of us rely on farmers as a food source, that carries. But the extension has taken a role in other activities related to the land-grant status of colleges like Penn State.
For example, Penn State extension took up the topic of Marcellus Shale nearly a decade ago, before most people knew what it was. Extension trains food handlers on safe tecnhiques. Through its 4-H program, extension teaches science, technology and citizenship along with agriculture.
"We have established our extension program teams and we have established 11 flagship programs or program priority initiatives that we need to focus our attention on moving forward," Penn State Extension director Dennis Calvin said at this year's legislative update. But then came the bad news: "As we look over the last 10 years, most of those years we've had at best level funding."
Extension stayed fairly even from a funding standpoint from 2007-2011, with a slight drop in 2009. But it lost nearly 20 percent of its funding last year - and expects no increase with an already strapped state budget.
Extension doesn't get its money from student tuition and other fees; in fact, it's not part of Penn State's budget. But the College of Agricultural Sciences took a risk and separated the program even further, cutting its financial ties to the main university budget.
"It was a bit of a gamble to pull our college away from Penn State the institution, Penn State the brand," said Bruce McPheron, the dean of the school.
But he said it paid off several months later when the college - and the extension - escaped a mid-year recision in funding, and a reduction in proposed funding.
Then he reminded the members of local extension agencies they still had a role to play.
"Success is measured by your continued validation. The extension advocates have done something over and above because you represent the local connection to elected officials," he said. "Last year we had a budgetary challenge - we didn't actually get as much money as we hoped for. But something incredibly important was accomplished - you helped us reposition the ag research and extension lines within Pennsylvania's budget.
"Here's the metric of success or sustainability of the college," he said. "We rise or fall on our own merit."