Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Courtney Dodd, Assistant Agency Director and Texas 4-H Youth Development Program Leader, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Stacey Dewald, Graduate Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Michelle Payne, Extension Program Specialist I, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
4-H Youth Development Programs have been a mainstay of quality Extension educational programs since the inception of Extension in Texas with the Boys Corn Club and Tomato Clubs. Youths who participate in 4-H Youth Development Programs earn higher grades, have higher levels of civic engagement, and engage in less risky behavior (Lerner & Lerner, 2013). However impressive these impacts may be, these type of results can be made if participants remain in the program (Pratt & Bowman, 2008).
Volunteers and Extension Educators are unceasingly searching for strategies that will increase Texas A&M AgriLife Extension’s capacity to retain 4-H youth. Research reported by Lewis, Ewers, Miller, Bird, Borba, Hill, Reakeywood, Shelstad and Trzesniewski (2018) reported that dropout occurs because (a) youths are busy with sports or other organizations, (b) youths are unhappy with their clubs or projects, and (c) parent involvement is low (Harder, Lamm, Lamm, Rose, & Rask, 2005; Hartley, 1983; Ritchie & Resler, 1993). Demographic factors also influence dropout (e.g., gender, age at entry) (Astroth, 1985; Defore, Fuhrman, Peake, & Duncan, 2011; Harder et al., 2005; Ritchie & Resler, 1993). Further, a primary indicator for dropping out is being a first-year member (Astroth, 1985; Hamilton, Northern, & Neff, 2014; Harder et al., 2005; Hartley, 1983). Examination of enrollment data from California showed similar trends (Lewis, Horrillo, Worker, Miller, & Trzesniewski, 2015).
This research reported in the Journal of Extension (2018) began with county-based interviews via telephone with first year families whose children had not re enrolled in the 4-H program (Lewis et al, 2018). The researchers utilized the interviews as well as similar surveys from other states to develop the questions for comprehensive survey (Lewis et al, 2018). The researchers developed parallel versions of the survey for youths and adults to gain both perspectives (Lewis et al, 2018).
These surveys were pilot tested in summer 2015 in a subset of counties in California and all counties in Idaho (Lewis et al, 2018). To establish baselines regarding motivation to join and expectations of the program, the researchers asked survey takers why they had joined 4-H and how they had heard about 4-H (Lewis et al, 2018). The research team then asked two open-ended questions about their expectations of 4-H and whether those expectations were met (from adults only) (Lewis et al, 2018). The researchers inquired whether (a) youths intended to re-enroll in the program, (b) they had other family members in 4-H, and (c) their parents/guardians had been in 4-H as children; the latter two questions were intended to enhance the research team’s understanding related to prior history with the 4-H program (Lewis et al, 2018). To assess the experience of being in 4-H, the researchers asked “What was the best part of your experience in 4-H last year?” and “If you could change one thing about 4-H, what would it be?” (Lewis et al, 2018). The research team requested that youth indicate how much they agreed with 10 statements related to program characteristics that maximize youth development (Eccles & Gootman, 2002).
In summer 2017, the research team added items to the adult survey that addressed involvement of other children in the family and their own involvement in 4-H in order to gain a better understanding about the family’s history with 4-H and how that history may have influenced their expectations of and experience in the 4-H program (Lewis et al, 2018). Additionally, 4-H teens in California and New Jersey reviewed the survey and suggested asking about barriers not previously identified by the research team, allowing for a more comprehensive view of program experiences (Lewis et al, 2018).
In summer 2017, the team emailed a Quadratics survey link to all first-year families in California, Idaho, Wyoming, and New Jersey (Lewis et al, 2018). In addition to the demographics presented in Table 1, the team collected enrollment data (project participation, state, county, and club name) (Lewis et al, 2018). The survey consisted of 28 items (Lewis et al, 2018). The mean youth age from the youth reports was 10.06 years (with a standard deviation of 2.58) and from adult reports (on the child’s age) was 9.83 years (with a standard deviation of 2.45).
Table 2 provides the demographics for type of residence and family involvement in 4-H.
Table 3 provides a list of 10 statements youths rated on program characteristics that maximize youth development (Lewis et al, 2018). The researchers utilized a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) (Lewis et al, 2018). Exploratory factor analyses (Santos & Clegg, 1999), within and across states, showed that the 10 items loaded onto one overall “experience” factor. A one-factor solution explained 63% of the scale variance for youths, the scree plot (used to determine the number of factors to retain in an exploratory analysis) indicated a one-factor solution, and the scale had excellent reliability of 0.93 (Lewis et al, 2018). The 10 items together measure an overall “experience” in 4-H during the first year (Lewis et al, 2018). The factor analysis reported in Table 3 is the relationship of each variable to the underlying factor which is expressed by factor loading. This is a useful scale that can be used to assess an overall sense of feelings toward a program.
Table 3 provides a summary of factor loading, means, and standard deviations for the 10-item experience scale (Lewis et al, 2018):
Table 4 provides the responses youth provided on the reasons why they might leave the program (Lewis et al, 2018). The researchers utilized a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Mean responses were highest for not feeling connected to other youths, not having time, and not knowing when the club or project met (Lewis et al, 2018). Table 4 provides the means and standard deviations for these questions.
Through implementing the survey and from analyzing the data, the researchers compiled some lessons learned that can be beneficial when working with volunteers and for Extension educators who are continually addressing issues related to 4-H member retention. This research provides useful information about the 4-H program and assists in understanding the challenges new members and families may face (Lewis et al, 2018). An improved understanding of the perspectives of first-year families, 4-H volunteers and Extension educators can develop materials and practices to support participants and their retention in the 4-H program.
Astroth, K. A. (1985). The challenge of retaining 4-H members. Journal of Extension, 23(3), Article 3FEA4. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe1985fall/sa4php.
Defore, A., Fuhrman, N. E., Peake, J. B., & Duncan, D. W. (2011). Factors influencing 4-H club enrollment and retention in Georgia. Journal of Youth Development, 6(2). Retrieved from http://www.nae4ha.com/assets/documents/JYDfinal0602.pdf
Eccles, J., & Gootman, J. A. (2002). Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Hamilton, S. F., Northern, A., & Neff, R. (2014). Strengthening 4-H by analyzing enrollment data. Journal of Extension, 52(3), Article 3FEA7. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2014june/a7.php
Harder, A., Lamm, A., Lamm, D., Rose, H., & Rask, G. (2005). An in-depth look at 4-H enrollment and retention. Journal of Extension, 43(5), Article 5RIB4. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2005october/rb4p.shtml
Hartley, R. S. (1983). Keeping 4-H members. Journal of Extension, 21(4). Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1983july/a4.php
Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (2013). The positive development of youth: Comprehensive findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. Chevy Chase, MD: National 4-H Council. Retrieved from http://www.4-h.org/About-4-H/Research/PYD-Wave-9-2013.dwn
Lewis , K., Ewers, T., Miller, J., Bird, M., Borba, J., Hill, R., Rea-Keywood, J., Shelstad, N., & Trzesniewski, K. (2018). Addressing Retention in Youth Programs: A Survey for Understanding Families’ Experience. Journal of Extension. 56(3). Article 3TOT3. Available at https://www.joe.org/joe/2018june/tt3php.
Lewis, K. M., Horrillo, S. J., Worker, S. M., Miller, J., & Trzesniewski, K. (2015). Retaining youth: An examination of California 4-H youth enrollment trends. Paper presented at the American Evaluation Association, Chicago, IL.
Pratt, C., & Bowman, S. (2008). Principles of effective behavior change: Application to Extension family educational programming. Journal of Extension, 46(5), Article 5FEA2. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2008october/a2.php
Ritchie, R. M., & Resler, K. M. (1993). Why youth drop out of 4-H. Journal of Extension, 31(1), Article 1RIB3. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1993spring/rb3.php
Santos, J. R. A., & Clegg, M. D. (1999). Factor analysis adds new dimension to Extension surveys. Journal of Extension, 37(5), Article 5RIB6. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1999october/rb6.php