Section 2: The History and Philosophy of Extension

Historical context for Extension

For over 100 years, University of Missouri Extension's mission has been the dissemination of information and knowledge derived from research, study and practical experience to help empower people to lead more productive and satisfying lives. Extension is a part of an educational system that is committed to enhancing human potential in a changing social and economic environment. MU Extension has its roots in the federal acts that enabled the university to deliver the practical benefits of education and scientific research to people to improve their economic prospects and quality of life.

1862 Morrill Act

The Cooperative Extension Service was established in 1914 with the passage of the Smith-Lever Act, but several laws passed prior to that contributed to extension's present form. The first of these was the Morrill Act of 1862, which created the land-grant university system. When the Morrill Act was passed, few people could have guessed its impact on the nation. The system it created effectively brought the opportunity for university education and vocational skills to all citizens. A uniquely American system, land-grant universities serve as catalysts for growth and change in the states they serve.

1890 Morrill Act

Twenty-eight years later, a second Morrill Act added institutions that primarily served minority students and increased funds available to land-grant universities to ensure they were open to all citizens without regard to race. Today, each state and the territories of the United States have a land-grant university, and 17 states have an 1890 institution.

From the early focus on vocational education — particularly in business, agriculture and the trades — the land-grant institutions have expanded their mission to include three primary functions: resident teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level; research, both basic and applied, in response to the specific needs of the state; and extension of knowledge to all people of the state.

The Hatch Act

The third major piece of legislation that has shaped extension is the Hatch Act, introduced by William H. Hatch of Missouri. Passed in 1887, the Hatch Act authorized establishment of agricultural experiment stations to expand the research capabilities of land-grant universities. The experiment stations engage in research projects that benefit agriculture producers and ensure a safe and reliable food supply by communicating their results to farmers around the state.

Smith-Lever Act

The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service, a partnership among federal, state and county governments allowing universities to extend their programs to all people — not just students.

Extension in Missouri

Initially, the extension program concentrated on working with farmers and their families, then the majority of the nation's population, to improve their quality of life and standard of living. Extension agents demonstrated how to produce more and better varieties of agricultural commodities; how to benefit from better nutrition, clothing and housing; and how to work together to bring about major improvements, such as electric cooperatives.

As technological advances have happened in the Unites States and a greater percent of Missouri’s population is working off the farm, Missouri has communicated the need for extension programs in Community Health, Youth and Families, Business and Workforce, Food and Nutrition. In addition, we still provide education in Agriculture and Natural Resources.

In 1927, 4-H became a part of cooperative extension. Today, one in five Missouri youths, ages 5 to 19, participate in a 4-H educational program. The University of Missouri 4-H Center for Youth Development provides education in leadership, citizenship and community service through nearly 1,400 community and SPIN (special interest) clubs, school enrichment programs, in-school and after-school clubs, conferences and camps. More than 7,400 adult and youth volunteers lead hands-on projects in over 80 project areas in STEM and agriculture, healthy living, civic engagement, career pathways and more.

The mission of University of Missouri Extension is to serve Missouri by extending the research-based knowledge and problem-solving resources of the University of Missouri and Lincoln University, the state’s 1890 land-grant institution in Jefferson City, Missouri, to focus on high priority needs of people throughout the state.

County extension councils

In 1955, state legislation required counties to establish county extension councils to advise the University of Missouri on educational programming needs. Today, some 1,600 elected, appointed and delegated citizens donate their time and effort to assess local educational needs and to work with extension faculty in delivering and evaluating the programs. The local councils are responsible for working with the local county, municipalities and other stakeholders to obtain operational funds for the local county office in support of local programs, with the bulk of the funding provided by county government.

Continuing education

The University of Missouri took a major step forward in 1960 when it combined continuing education and cooperative extension programs. Today, continuing education programs in fire and rescue training, law enforcement and many other topics are essential to the livelihood of Missourians.

Significant organizational changes

In 1972, the University of Missouri and Lincoln University established a unified extension program — the nation's first such partnership between two state land-grant universities. Technical assistance for families on small farms and leadership education for Black youth are results of that successful partnership.

In 2004, the Office of the Provost at the University of Missouri assumed administrative responsibility for the university's statewide extension program.

In 2016, the new vice chancellor for extension and engagement reported directly to the chancellor of the University of Missouri. This led to the creation of the Office of Extension and Engagement in 2018. This was an important step toward providing the people of Missouri greater access to the full breadth of the university.

Also, in 2018, the vice chancellor for extension and engagement took on the additional responsibilities of chief engagement officer for the University of Missouri System(opens in new window) — leading outreach efforts and working with university leaders at all four campuses to develop an outreach and engagement strategy. This connection with all four UM System campuses allows for deeper connections between the citizens of Missouri and their university system.


2022, Feb.  About MU Extension: History of extension