Facilitating multicultural programming through cooperative extension FCS programs

Facilitating multicultural programming through cooperative extension FCS programs

Hansen-Gandy, Sally



The purpose of this study was to determine the degree to which family and consumer sciences extension programs address cultural diversity and to examine extension professionals’ attitudes toward multicultural programming. FCS state extension leaders in 44 states distributed questionnaires to 214 state leaders, assistant directors, or key extension specialists. The largest category of respondents, 44.3%, was comprised of county extension agents. The findings indicated 56% of the respondents reported offering programs targeted toward special cultural groups. Respondents desired assistance in teaching strategies, individual and small group strategies, and workshops. Although 84% were aware of their own limitations in working with culturally diverse individuals and families, a vast majority (96%) were receptive to learning about cultural groups.

The diversity of the United States’ population is becoming increasingly evident. Based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau (1999), the overall population grew by 10% in the 1990s. The Hispanic and Latino populations increased by 40% and Asian-Pacific Islanders by 46% with much smaller increases reported for Native Americans (16%), African-Americans (14%), and whites (7.6%). Population projections indicate that by 2050, nearly half (47%) of the U.S. population will be composed of minority groups (Day, 1996). This is in large part due to higher birthrates and a lower median age for minorities in this country, as well as the continued immigration from South and Central America and from Southeast Asia. By 2005, the Hispanic and Latino populations are predicted to be the largest minority populations in the United States, and by 2050 they are projected to comprise one-fourth of the total U.S. population. Hodgkinson (1993) predicted that by 2010, approximately 12 states will have youth populations that are “majority minority.”

Changing demographics of the U.S. population have important implications for education and social service agencies in terms of clientele to be served. The U.S. Cooperative Extension Service is no exception. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (1990) noted the aging of cooperative extension’s traditional, white, rural clientele and the under-representation of ethnically diverse populations among the groups they serve. Current data suggest that minority involvement in Extension programming will increase steadily within the foreseeable future. For example, 56% of Hispanics are high school graduates as compared to 88% of non-Hispanic whites. Hispanics are approximately three times more likely to fall below the poverty level (26%) than are non-Hispanic whites (8%), and it is estimated that about 34% of Hispanic children live in poverty (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2000). Statistics regarding extension’s contacts with minority clientele indicate “although contacts with minority clientele have increased, the percentage of contacts with this population relative to the potential continues to be lower than for majority clientele” (Grogan, 1991, p. 21).

The Cooperative Extension System’s “Emphasis on Diversity” was initiated in 1990 and resulted in a strategic plan entitled Pathway to Diversity (Strategic Planning Task Force on Diversity, 1991), which was developed to provide guidance in implementing the “Emphasis on Diversity.” Six strategic goals were identified including “Audience and Program Diversity,” which specified, “CES will expand the diversity of current and potential audiences and programs to reflect the population of the nation, states, and territories in selecting and developing programs” (p. 4).

Because family and consumer sciences (FCS) professionals consist primarily of white females (non-Hispanic or Latino), questions might be raised concerning prevalent attitudes among FCS extension professionals regarding multiculturalism and the degree to which multiculturalism is included in extension programming. Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine the backgrounds of family and consumer sciences extension professionals relative to cultural diversity, to determine some of the extension programs that address cultural diversity, to understand existing support for multicultural education and desires for future support, and to examine extension professionals’ attitudes toward multicultural programming. This project was funded by a grant from Kappa Omicron Nu, which has had a major emphasis on diversity.


A survey research design of family and consumer sciences (FCS) extension programs was conducted utilizing the directories of state leaders and assistant directors of extension home economics/FCS. The FCS state leaders of extension in each of the 50 states were contacted by e-mail, fax, or U.S. mail to determine their willingness to participate. There was a potential maximum of five respondents from each state including the FCS state leader or assistant director and key extension specialists. Key extension specialists were those individuals at the state or county level who had been identified by the state leader as having shown leadership in developing and/or presenting programs related to cultural diversity, as well as conducting programs or research dealing with diverse populations. The goal of this investigation was to specifically gain information from all 50 states about culturally diverse programs and extension specialists who were targeting special populations and not to generalize to all extension specialists. The culturally diverse activities could occur within any of the specializations of FCS. Thus, extension professionals could provide information regarding what is occurring in multicultural programming within their specialized areas of FCS, as well as their states. Of the 50 state leaders, 44 requested 214 questionnaires, of which 122 were returned for a response rate of 57%.

The instrument consisted of open-ended and closed-form questions relating to the a) cultural and professional backgrounds of the respondents and the individuals and families whom they serve, b) program content relating to culturally diverse issues, c) bridges and barriers to facilitating cultural diversity programs, and d) perceived attitudes toward multicultural education.


Background of Respondents and Clients

Of the extension professionals in this study, 38.5% served at the state level and 2.3% served regionally, whereas 44.3% described their service area as county, 10.5% as area, and 2.5% as local. Their professional posilions included being an extension home economist (34.4%), state extension home economics specialist (17.2%), EFNEP home economics specialist (13.1%), extension home economics specialist (9.0%), extension or community based educator (8.2%), and district or area home economics program specialist (4.9%). The years of professional experience ranged from 1 to 36 with an average of 18.2 years.

The respondents were predominantly white (78.7%), followed by Hispanics and Latinos (9.0%), African-Americans (7.4%), Asian-Americans (2.5%), Native Americans (.8%), and other (1.6%). These extension professionals were predominantly female (93.3%) with an age range of 29 to 63 and average age of 46.1. Respondents were asked to rate their perceived level of training in cultural diversity on a likert-type scale ranging from 1 (none) to 7 (considerable). Their perceived level of training was moderate with a mean score of 4.1 (some) for this group. A similar likert-scale question was included regarding their desire to receive additional training in working with culturally diverse individuals and families that resulted in an average score of 5.1.

These extension professionals currently serve a variety of cultural groups and age populations. Respondents were asked to consider various cultural groups and age populations and rank the degree of current service ranging from 1 (none) to 3 (considerable). The results indicated that they serve whites most frequently followed by Hispanics and African-Americans (see Table 1). The age populations and special groups with whom they were most frequently involved included adults followed by families and those with low income (see Table 1). Of the extension professionals, 33% indicated they had “considerable” involvement with Hispanics and Latinos, and 62% indicated they had “some” involvement with Hispanics and Latinos. Some extension professionals indicated that they could speak and read Spanish. Whereas 14% had considerable speaking proficiency in Spanish and 17% had “considerable” reading proficiency in Spanish, those with “some” experience in speaking and reading Spanish were 32% and 29%, respectively.

Multicultural Programming

Of the extension professionals surveyed, 37.7% indicated that they had conducted research related to their content area with culturally diverse populations. Extension programs targeted toward specific cultural groups were reported by 55.7% of the respondents. Examples of these programs were as follows:

* African-American leadership

* Hispanic parenting education

* Indian reservation nutrition education

* Literacy education

* Lowering fat, sugar, and sodium in Mexican diets

* Native American food safety programs

* Nutrition education for low-income Hispanics and migrant farm workers “La cocina saludable”

* Parent education for Laotians and Vietnamese

* Positive Indian parenting

* Money management seminars for Hispanics

* Cultural sensitivity toward children and families

* South-East Asian refugees in EFNEP

* “Mosaic in Harmony” P.E.A.C.E. (Promoting Education and Culture-Sharing Experiences) Programs for Middle and High Schools

* Workshops for (a) Laotians (b) Japanese (c) Filipinos (d) Italians Spanish/Hispanic/TexMex Program

* “Bocadillos saludables”- 60 second radio spots in Spanish on healthy snacks for kids.

* “Compre comida saludable”- workshop for Hispanics on buying healthy food.

* “Cradle Crier”- newsletter sent out to parents of infants within the state, translated in Spanish

* “Companeros en la crianza de hijos”Partners for parenting

The extension professionals reported the following cultural groups for which programs had been offered: African-Americans; Hispanics and Latinos; Mexicans; Native Americans; South East Asians; Laotians; Filipinos; Japanese; Italians; migrant farm workers; welfare families; women in development; senior citizens; child care providers; parents; youth; pregnant teens; and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Some of the reported general programs into which multicultural themes and learning experiences had been integrated included: leadership; foods and nutrition; food safety; health fairs; child development; discipline; juvenile probation and detention; literacy education; money/financial management; consumerism; housing; parent education; and cultural sensitivity.

Support for Multicultural Education

Support or a lack of support for multicultural education can evolve from a variety of sources. Those factors that were considered as the greatest deterrents to multicultural education were lack of time to prepare new materials, lack of financial resources, and lack of time in current programs. Limited backgrounds and training of administrators and colleagues were also perceived as deterrents. Personal values and beliefs about cultural diversity along with the perception that multicultural issues were being addressed elsewhere were reported as having the least effect on delivery of multicultural education by extension professionals (see Table 2).

A series of questions were asked regarding the helpfulness of perceived assistance currently received in working with individuals or families from culturally diverse populations. The results indicated that workshops provided the greatest assistance followed by travel, references, and suggestions for teaching strategies, as well as suggestions for individual and small group activities. Family members and the media provided the least assistance (see Table 3). In regard to desires for future types of assistance in working with individuals or families from culturally diverse populations, the respondents were asked to look at various options and rate them on a scale of 1 (none) to 3 (considerable) (see Table 3). Respondents perceived suggestions for teaching strategies, suggestions for individual and small group strategies, workshops, and professional activities as their most desired types of assistance. In comparison, media and formal classes were reported to be the least desired types of assistance.

Attitudes of FCS Extension Professionals

To determine the attitudes of family and consumer sciences extension professionals, various attitudinal questions were included in the survey. The responses are noted in Table 4 and have been organized according to attitudes related to general perceptions and attitudes concerning perceptions of personal competence.

In general, the respondents agree that extension needs to address the differences that exist among individuals and families of various cultures, but they also believe that extension professionals are not well prepared to work with culturally diverse individuals. They also perceive that in extension, professionals could unintentionally impose their cultural values upon individuals and families. Regarding personal competencies, the respondents perceive they are open and receptive to learning about cultural groups, try to recognize and correct cultural misunderstandings, and are aware of the different effects of nonverbal communications on various cultures. Although they feel competent to work with people of at least one culture different than their own, they are also aware of their limitations in working with culturally diverse individuals and families. In addition, they have mixed feelings about their comfort in working with people from cultures other than their own and the role of personal prejudices and stereo,types from their own personal background that may be affecting their work with other cultures. In other words, these extension professionals perceive some degree of personal competence in dealing with culturally diverse groups, but have some qualms regarding their personal comfort levels, prejudices, and stereotypes, as well as the professional competencies of their colleagues.


The respondents in this study were predominantly white females; however, they served a wide variety of culturally diverse groups and age populations. Whites were served slightly more than other racial groups, but Hispanics and Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans, and Asian-Americans closely followed them. The age groups served ranged from youth to senior citizens and included families, as well as special need populations. A strength of this study was its focus on all 50 states with responses from 44 states. Although the findings are limited by the inclusion of only those extension specialists who were identified as targeting topics for culturally diverse audiences, the goal of this study was to gain programming information specifically related to extension’s role in addressing cultural diversity and not to generalize to all extension professionals. A future study, however, involving a representative sample of all extension agents would be useful in providing a more complete understanding of culturally diverse issues in extension and some of the concerns facing the profession as a whole.

With the rapidly growing Hispanic and Latino populations in the United States and the concern that some have limited English proficiency, is enough being done to meet their needs? Not only are the Hispanic and Latino populations increasing, but the median age of this group is also important to contemplate. Many Hispanics and Latinos are in their childbearing years, suggesting their need for relevant and culturally sensitive information regarding child development and parenting. Although extension has designed creative programs for specific cultural groups, further attention needs to be given to programming for culturally diverse populations as the cultural demographics within the U.S. continue to change. Extension cannot be expected to do everything to meet the needs of these changing demographics. Collaboration between extension and other FCS professionals and organizations, therefore, will become increasingly important. A combined effort by the profession as a whole to address cultural diversity is an ongoing challenge.

Workshops and travel are perceived as he most helpful in assisting extension personnel to work with culturally diverse populations, whereas the greatest deterrents to multicultural education are the lack of time to prepare new materials and the lack of financial resources. In regard to future assistance, the respondents want teaching strategies, suggestions for individual, as well as small group strategies, and workshops. In contrast, media and formal classes are the least desired type of assistance. These results suggest the need for continued support in the way of workshops and teaching methodology from state program leaders, as well as from professional organizations. Perhaps extension needs to hire state-level staff with an understanding of diverse populations and expertise in program planning and teaching strategies specifically to design materials for use with multicultural audiences. County agents, therefore, would be freed from this time-consuming activity and could modify or use the state materials to best meet the needs of their local clientele. Extension professionals, however, should be offered the opportunity to identify materials that need to be developed in order to carry out effective multicultural programming. In addition, they should be given incentives to implement statewide programs along with release time to attend workshops that can enhance their ability to develop and deliver these programs.

The reported attitudes of extension professionals indicate a belief that extension needs to address the existing differences among individuals and families of various cultures. These extension professionals, however, perceive that they are not well prepared to work effectively in a culturally diverse environment. Respondents feel competent to work with at least one culture different from their own, but also realize that they may impose their own cultural values on groups with which they work. Mixed feelings about their comfort level in working with people from cultures other than their own were also reported. Since many extension professionals work with Hispanics and Latinos, and yet the majority of professionals cannot read or speak Spanish, perhaps Spanish should be recommended to those undergraduate students who are planning to pursue a career in cooperative extension. Another alternative would be for extension to provide in-service classes in Spanish for extension personnel serving Hispanic and Latino clientele. The U.S. currently is experiencing a major infusion of Hispanic and Latino culture, which is perhaps most readily evident in the areas of music, food, and fashion. All professionals need to recognize these trends and incorporate them where appropriate. In some states and counties, hiring specialized agents to meet the needs of culturally diverse populations may be increasingly necessary.

There is evidence that cooperative extension is moving in the direction of becoming an organization that is more culturally diverse. A research project conducted by Ewert and Rice (1994) found that as organizations become more culturally diverse, they increase their “reach and ability to attract new clientele.” The study also concluded that until extension addresses such issues as urban poverty and job creation, a diverse staff would be difficult to recruit and retain. In 1998, Grogan and Eshelman reported on strategies implemented by Cornell Cooperative Extension to obtain a more diverse workforce. Organizations can become more inclusive by altering aspects within each stage of the staffing process including position development and recruitment, as well as selection and support of new staff. Special attention also needs to be given to retention of diverse staff by creating a hospitable working environment in which each staff member is welcomed into an organizational structure that supports and values differences.

Overall, extension professionals are open to learning about cultural groups and are willing to serve diverse populations. The receptive attitudes reflected in this survey are a highly positive and encouraging starting point for further education, workshops, and learning opportunities at universities, state training seminars, and professional meetings. As the population continues to become more diverse in the United States, ongoing education and state level specialists in multicultural education will be needed in order for extension professionals to broaden their knowledge of more cultures different from their own. As we enter the new millennium, efforts must be focused on providing family and consumer sciences professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary for them to feel competent and comfortable in the increasingly complex and diverse American culture in which they work. This will be a challenge to us all.

* This project was funded by a grant from Kappa Omicron Nu


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BONNIE B. GREENWOOD, Ph.D., CFCS Department ofFamily and Child Sciences Florida State University

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