October 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB2
What Do You Know About Your Clients? Implications for Extension Financial Management Training
The study reported here sought to determine the financial management training needs of agricultural producers in Nevada. Two groups were surveyed via an investigator-designed questionnaire, participants who enrolled in a tax management program and non-participants who chose not to enroll. The results indicate that the two groups are demographically alike. While the non-participant group reported lower financial management knowledge, they indicate that they would not be willing to attend future Extension financial management training events. Therefore, it is recommended that additional study determine why and if a reallocation of resources to reach this group is warranted.
Financial management and record keeping are sought-after topics by farm and ranch owners, particularly beginning farmers (Trede & Whitaker, 1998). Education in the use and application of computers is a related topic of importance to these same people. In the early 1980's, many people felt that computers would be used by more than 80% of the farm and ranch owners by the 1990's. While this predication may not have been completely accurate, computer usage has certainly increased (Schmidt, Rockwell, Bitney, & Sarno, 1994).
While Bowen, Miller, and Escolme (1989) found that few farmers named Extension personnel as the primary source for microcomputer instruction, it was apparent that Extension was still playing an important role. In the case of Nevada, financial management and computer training is often combined (Nevada Cooperative Extension, in-progress). As with other Extension systems, Nevada Cooperative Extension strives to bring relevant educational programs to its clientele.
Seevers, Grahm, Gamon, and Conklin (1995) reported that client satisfaction with Extension programs was of significant importance. According to Warnock (1992), Cooperative Extension should follow the example set by private businesses and ask their customers, "How are we doing?" Information relative to the beliefs, needs, and behavior of clients can provide valuable input concerning the effectiveness of the programs they attended (Martin & Rewerts, 1988). If possible, input should also be sought from those not participating in current programs. Are they getting their information from others? Would they be willing to participate in future Extension programs?
Both groups can also provide insight concerning topics for future programming as well as the format for receiving this information. Answers to these types of questions can improve current instructional efforts and provide insight into developing new learning situations (Parrett, Faulkner, & Varner, 1988).
Given the emphasis being placed on farm financial management and computer training by Nevada Cooperative Extension (NCE), it was necessary to determine producer perceptions related to this training. Therefore, the study reported here was designed to determine the financial management and computer educational needs of two groups of agricultural producers in Nevada and to determine if there were differences between the two groups. This information would allow NCE to adjust and adapt current topics, teaching methods, and delivery formats to more closely meet producer needs.
Data were collected from a total of 69 producers. "Participants" included 33 respondents who previously participated in an Extension tax management program conducted by correspondence. The 33 respondents represented 44% of the tax course participants. The second group, "non-participants," consisted of 36 respondents who were randomly selected for telephone interviews. These 36 had originally been notified about the tax program but chose not to participate.
A closed-form questionnaire consisting of 20 questions was utilized. The format of the questionnaire included five‚point Likert type scales, multiple choice selection, and two open-ended questions. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to describe the two groups and to determine if there were any differences between them.
The participant group received the questionnaire through the mail, and the non-participant group responded by telephone interview. Topics covered included:
- Knowledge and use of economic and financial management techniques,
- Knowledge and use of computer technology,
- Desired format for receiving future programming,
- Topics for future programming, and
- Demographic information.
Many of the questions contained multiple sections. Cronbach's alpha was calculated for both groups. The coefficient for the "participants" was .78 and .82 for the "non-participants." Considering the small N of both groups, the coefficients indicated that the instrument's scales were internally consistent.
Respondents represented 13 of Nevada's 17 counties. Multiple choice selection type questions were used to gather the data for this section. There were no statistically significant differences between the two groups when comparing six demographic characteristics.
Combined, the two groups reported that 40% had graduated from college. Thirty-four percent had attended college, 21% had graduated from high school, and 5% had attended high school.
Sixty-four percent of the respondents reported that farming and/or ranching was their principal occupation. Sixty percent listed their major agricultural activity as livestock, 38% crop production, and 2% some type of agribusiness enterprise. Thirty-two percent reported working 200 days or more off-farm, while 68% worked less than 200 days off-farm.
Gross income from farming and/or ranching activities was also reported. Forty-four percent of the respondents reported gross earnings of less than $50,000, 22 percent between $50,000 and $100,000, and one-third had gross earnings in excess of $100,000. Forty-four percent of the respondents had owned their farm or ranch for 4 years or less, 28% between 5 and 9 years, and 62% for 10 years or more.
Knowledge and Use of Economic and Financial Management Techniques
This section (Table 1) revealed the respondents' perceptions concerning their level of expertise in economics and financial management, and whether their level of expertise was a limiting factor when analyzing the financial performance of their operation. Also measured were the respondents' knowledge and skill level with several financial management procedures. The data were gathered using five-point Likert type scales (1=not at all and poor, and 5=definitely, excellent, and almost always).
The respondents reported that they had come to rely on financial management techniques and that they had a moderate level of expertise with these techniques. They did not report having many problems in analyzing the business performance of their operation because they did not feel that their level of expertise was a limiting factor. They did report relying on others for help. The only statistically significant differences between the groups in this section was the fact that the participant group tended to rely more heavily on others for help than did the non-participant group.
Respondents' Perceptions Regarding Their Knowledge and Use of Economic and Financial Management Techniques
Respondents were also asked to indicate their familiarity with certain financial statements. To measure this variable, respondents were asked to indicate their level of use of the financial statements shown in Table 2 (1=don't use; 2=use, but not with computer; 3=use with computer). While there were several individuals using computers with these procedures, the majority was using the statements without a computer. There were statistically significant differences between the groups concerning their level of knowledge and skill associated with enterprise budgets and farm/ranch accounting.
Respondents' Perceptions Regarding Their Knowledge and Level of Skill in Utilizing Business Management Tools
Knowledge and Use of Computer Technology
The data were gathered for this section by multiple choice type questions. There were no statistically significant differences between the two groups concerning their knowledge and use of computer technology. Seventy-three percent of the respondents owned a computer, and 27% did not. The participant group had owned a computer slightly longer than the non-participant group, 7.2 years versus 5.5 years.
Only 32% of the respondents reported using spreadsheets to keep production records, and 45% used spreadsheets for financial record keeping. While the percentage of respondents not using spreadsheets to keep production or financial management records may seem low, many respondents did report using other software packages to keep this same information.
Fifty percent had access to email and 51% to the Internet, although 49% of them reported never accessing the Internet. However, another 11% did access the Internet two to four times per year, 2% on a monthly basis, and 38% on a weekly basis. In addition, a majority, 60%, clearly felt that their computers had already paid for themselves. Twenty-nine percent said that their computers had not yet paid for themselves but that they eventually would, and 11% felt they would never pay for themselves.
Program Planning for Future Extension Events
Five-point Likert type questions were used to gather data in this section (1-not important, 5=very important). Respondents were asked if they would be willing to attend future training sessions aimed at improving their economic and financial management skills. While both groups indicated yes, the participant group was much more enthusiastic in their support (4.03 versus 3.0).
There were also several differences between the two groups when selecting future topics for instruction. There were significant differences between the two groups on five out of seven of the topics shown in Table 3. While both chose financial management and farm and ranch accounting for the top two topics, there was no real consensus after that other than that both groups ranked estate tax planning in 4th place.
In addition to ranking topics for future training, respondents were also asked to rank the format in which they preferred to receive future training, (Table 4). There were two statistically significant differences between the two groups, and they concerned home self-study and Internet classes as delivery methods. The non-participant group ranked both Internet and home self-study courses lower than the participant group.
Respondents' Perceptions Concerning Topics for Future Programming
Respondents' Perceptions Concerning Different Delivery Formats for Future Events
The first question asked the respondents about the major limitation that they faced in managing the financial aspects of their production operation. Their responses included generation changes (e.g., estate planning), lack of computer knowledge, low profitability, a lack of time to get everything done, and the small-scale of their operation.
The second question asked the respondents what they thought Nevada Cooperative Extension might do to help overcome these limitations. Additional training provided by Nevada Cooperative Extension was the most common answer. The suggested training included cash management, how to borrow money, and computer classes. Another important suggestion was that Nevada Cooperative Extension should provide family ranch management facilitators to work with ranch families.
Demographically, the two groups were very similar. They were also very similar when measuring their knowledge and use of computer technology. The non-participant group chose not to participate in the tax program because they apparently do not rely on others as much as the participant group for help in planning and analyzing the financial aspects of their agricultural operation. In addition, they were not as willing to participate in future Cooperative Extension training sessions as the participant group even if the training was aimed at improving their economic and financial management skills.
This unwillingness to participate may be due to the fact that they rate their level of economic and financial management expertise higher than did the group that participated. However, it is interesting to note that the non-participant group rated their level of knowledge and skill with six business management tools relatively lower than did the participant group. Neither group, however, rated their economic knowledge and use of financial management techniques as very high.
The participant group clearly wants additional financial management training and would definitely attend future Extension financial management training events. They also rated the potential topics higher than did the non-participant group. This is consistent with the fact that they rated their level of economic and financial management expertise relatively lower than did the non-participant group, and they also relied more heavily on others for assistance with financial management issues.
The non-participant group clearly indicated that they were not interested in home self-study and Internet classes. There is some indication that this group has a preference for gathering information for specific questions.
Implications and Recommendations
Although the two groups manage similar businesses that require the same information in order to make management decisions, they apparently gather their information in different ways. While we have considerable information on our current audience, we know very little about the non-participant group. The implication exists that under current programming efforts, Extension is not meeting the educational needs of the non-participant group. However, based upon this group's self-reported low usage level of several financial statements, the implication also exists that their level of knowledge on the subject is so minimal that they cannot make an informed decision. This situation raises several interesting issues.
Extension should continue to meet the needs of the participant group concerning financial management and computer training. However, because little is known about the non-participant group, feedback should be sought from this group in order to learn more about their educational needs. The non-participating group apparently gets its information from a source other than Extension. This raises several questions that should be answered:
- Where does the non-participant group get their information, and where does that source get its information? From Extension?
- What delivery format is utilized?
- Should Extension reallocate resources in an effort to provide educational programming for the non-participant group?
- Will the benefits of this reallocation exceed its cost?
- Would a different marketing approach for the financial management-training program elicit better participation by the non-participant group?
The development of relevant educational programming is a problem faced by all Extension personnel at one time or another. Nevada is not unique in this situation, nor is it limited to financial management programming alone. With the continually changing structure of agriculture and overall population demographics that are occurring in the United States, Extension personnel in all disciplines must re-examine their programming efforts in order to better meet the needs of groups that are not currently participating in Extension programs.
Learning more about potential Extension clientele, i.e., non-participants, may raise issues and concerns that were not previously considered. While it may be uncomfortable to address these potential new issues, doing so can provide educational rewards for both Extension personnel and the once non-participating group. What do you know about your clients?
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Martin, D. H., & Rewerts, M. A. (1988). Knowing our customers. Journal of Extension [Online]. 26(3). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1988fall/a8.html.
Nevada Cooperative Extension. (in-progress). Financial management 101 curriculum guide. Reno: University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.
Parrett, D. F., Faulkner, D. B., & Varner, G. R. (1988). It's a challenge. Journal of Extension [Online]. 26(1). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1988spring/a3.html.
Schmidt, D., Rockwell, S. K., Bitney, L., & Sarno, E. A. (1994). Farmers adopt microcomputers in the 1980s: Educational needs surface for the 1990s. Journal of Extension [Online]. 32(1). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1994june/a9.html.
Seevers, B., Grahm, D., Gamon, J., & Conklin, N. (1995). Education through Cooperative Extension. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers.
Trede, L. D., & Whitaker, S. (1998). Beginning farmer education in Iowa: Implications to Extension. Journal of Extension [Online]. 36(5). Available at: http://joe.org/joe/1998october/a3.html.
Warnock, P. (1992). Surveying client satisfaction. Journal of Extension [Online]. 30(1). Available at: http://joe.org/joe/1992spring/a1.html.
This article is online at http://joe.org/joe/2001october/rb2.html.