Defining Extension Programs at the University of Connecticut: Smith-Lever Legislation and Funding Requirements

Author: Amy Harder, Associate Dean, UConn Extension

Publication # EXT001 | June 2023


This document is the first in a series that will identify the types of Extension programs at UConn based on their legislative mandates and funding requirements. The information is appropriate for readers with an interest in knowing how federal law defines extension work, what federal and state funds provide support for UConn Extension, and the guidelines for federal expenditures.

Smith-Lever Funding

UConn Extension provides nonformal education through the planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs intentionally designed to address critical issues relevant to the people of Connecticut. Critical issues are determined on a five-year basis and outlined in the University of Connecticut Research and Extension and Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station – Research Combined Plan of Work (POW) (2021-2025). UConn Extension also contributes to the federal POWs for Connecticut Sea Grant and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), which will be explored in more depth in subsequent documents in this series.

Most of Extension’s budget is a result of federal Smith-Lever funding and the required state match. Smith-Lever Act funding is only available to 1862 Land-Grant Institutions and is one of several types of capacity grants. The purpose of funding provided by Smith-Lever sections (b) and (c) “is to conduct cooperative agricultural extension work” (USDA NIFA, n.d., para. 1). An implied focus on serving rural populations and farms is evident in the formula used to allocate funds. States with higher percentages of rural populations and farms receive more funding. The phrase formula funding refers to this method of allocating Smith-Lever resources to LGUs (see page 6 of the RFA for details). Federal Smith-Lever and state matching funds must be used for extension programs and activities approved in our POW.

What’s an Extension Program?

To answer this question, we should first define Extension and differentiate it from outreach, engagement, or service. Extension is both a proper noun and a verb. Extension as a proper noun is the system created to conduct the extension work articulated by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. Extension as a verb refers to: 

the development of practical applications of research knowledge and giving of instruction and practical demonstrations of existing or improved practices or technologies in agriculture, uses of solar energy with respect to agriculture, home economics, and rural energy, and subjects relating thereto to persons not attending or resident in said colleges in the several communities, and imparting information on said subjects through demonstrations, publications, and otherwise and for the necessary printing and distribution of information in connection with the foregoing; and this work shall be carried on in such as manner as may be mutually agreed upon by the Secretary of Agriculture and the State agricultural college or colleges or Territory or possession receiving the benefits of this Act (Sec. 2 [7 U.S.C. 342]).

Key aspects of this lengthy definition include an emphasis on the practical application of research through instruction; providing education to individuals who are not attending the university, and the agreement between the USDA and the Land-Grant university.

  • Practical application of research through instruction: The first aspect makes clear that there is a direct linkage between the extension and research mission areas; this is the foundation for integrated activities. Extension is the system that makes research accessible and applicable to local populations. Strong relationships between university researchers and university extension educators are required for this element of extension work to be successful.
  • Providing education to individuals who are not attending the university: Extension is mandated to provide education to residents throughout the state so that benefiting from the Land-Grant university’s knowledge and research is not restricted to those able to attend as formal education students. The term extension is thus associated with extending university science out to the public. 
  • Agreement between the USDA and the Land-Grant university: Programs conducted in support of the university’s five-year Plan of Work approved by the USDA, and at least partially resourced by Smith-Lever federal funds and/or the state match, can and should be defined as an extension effort.

The second part of answering whether something is an Extension program requires understanding what a program is and what it is not. Programs are “the product resulting from all the programming activities in which the professional educator and learners are involved” (Boone, 1981, p. 5). Programs are not single activities, like a 4-H evening program, a field day, or performing a diagnostic test, but rather a collection of intentionally planned activities designed to help learners achieve specific measurable outcomes. A comprehensive program might include a field day, farm visits, soil tests, a blog, Extension fact sheets, and webinars all aimed at helping small-scale producers adopt best practices that will lead to improved sustainability and profitability. For more information on how to define a program, click here. It is common to plan programs using well-established models such as logic models or the TOP Model; without a program plan, it is difficult to impossible to attain the appropriate resources, ensure the right audiences are being targeted, and to determine if a program has been successful in achieving its outcomes.

Smith-Lever Expenditures

The USDA-NIFA provides an annual capacity grant to provide financial resources that support the implementation of the POW. Most of the federal grant, and the corresponding state matching funds, pays directly for salaries and fringe benefits for individuals in the Department of Extension but also supports varying percentages of time for approximately 30 individuals in academic departments. Individuals paid with Smith-Lever funding and/or the state matching funds are expected to contribute to accomplishing the goals outlined in the POW with effort proportionate to the amount of time (.FTE) they have assigned to Extension. The USDA-NIFA articulates these expectations in the RFA for FY 2023, explaining “the purpose of this [Smith-Lever] funding is to conduct agricultural extension work” (p. 7) and that “required matching funds for the capacity programs must be used by an eligible institution for the same purpose as Federal award dollars” (p. 11).

In CAHNR, we provide Smith-Lever funds to all departments to support UConn Extension programs aligned with our POW. As with any other type of grant, there is an expectation that funding will lead to measurable outcomes and/or deliverables. There is no exhaustive list of expenses which are allowable versus not, but some examples are provided to give an overview of the parameters. When in doubt, ask your fiscal officer about specific expenses to determine their eligibility to be covered with Smith-Lever funds.

Allowable costs include:

  • Supply costs that are used exclusively for an Extension activity or program, including printing or purchasing educational materials, postage, and office supplies 
  • Meals that are part of the costs of meetings and conferences, the primary purpose of which is the dissemination of technical information
  • Incidental costs for attending such meetings (as described in the prior bulleted item), including costs of transportation, facility rental, and speakers’ fees
  • Mileage costs for clientele visits to disseminate technical information
  • Membership dues or subscriptions to business, technical, and professional organizations or periodicals
  • Domestic travel for meetings and conferences, including programmatic and administrative/fiscal conferences that benefit the award and are necessary to accomplishing the goals of the award are allowable so long as the costs are reasonable and consistent with the institution’s travel policy

Unallowable costs include:

  • A prohibition on using funds, directly or indirectly, for the purchase, construction, preservation, or repair of any building or buildings
  • Costs that are part of an institution’s indirect cost pool (e.g., administrative or clerical salaries)
  • Land rentals or purchases
  • College-course teaching and lectures in college
  • Entertainment
  • Incentives and/or promotional items
  • Tuition

Managing Smith-Lever Funds

Allowable costs should clearly be tied to approved programs in our federal POW. The next page outlines the outcomes and broad impacts that are included in our POW, categorized by SVIC. This is a good list to review when determining if an expense is necessary to support UConn Extension’s overall programming efforts. Please work closely with your fiscal officer to ensure detailed records are being kept so that we can account for our Smith-Lever expenditures accurately. For more information on financial best practices, consult with the CAHNR Business Office.

Growing a Vibrant Agricultural Economy in Connecticut

Extension programs in this area:

  • Enhance the nutritional value of crops through the adoption of improved practices
  • Improve sustainable production practices 
  • Increase agricultural productivity
  • Improve the economic viability of CT agricultural producers
  • Improve resilience to business challenges

Fostering Sustainable Landscapes Across Urban-Rural Interfaces

Extension programs in this area: 

  • Promote the adoption of innovative technologies and strategic implementation of agriculture and ecosystem services
  • Enhance and improve the urban-rural interface

Adaptation and Resilience to a Changing Climate

Extension programs in this area:

  • Increase the adoption of climate resilience strategies by individuals and communities
  • Enhance individuals’ and communities’ adaptive capacity in response to climate change
  • Help the business community prosper in a changing climate
  • Sustain the natural resources that are critical to a healthy environment

Enhancing Health and Well-Being

Extension programs in this area:

  • Increase awareness and understanding of the potential effects of the environment on health
  • Improve employable skills of youth and families
  • Improve community members’ capacity to respond to local needs and opportunities
  • Maximize sport and physical performance and improve injury prevention, recovery, and rehabilitation
  • Improve the adoption of healthy lifestyles
  • Improve the practice of food safety
  • Optimize health by the application of digital technology
  • Improve food security through the creation of sustainable food systems
  • Reduce health inequities