WDC41: Understanding Recruitment and Retention in the 4H Club Program

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Inactive/Terminating

WDC41: Understanding Recruitment and Retention in the 4H Club Program

Duration: 07/05/2017 to 09/30/2018

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Nature and Significance. 4-H clubs-community centered and largely volunteer driven-have been a staple in high-quality educational program delivery since our organization’s inception. Youth who participate in 4-H earn higher grades, have higher civic engagement, and engage in less risky behavior compared to non-4-H youth (Lerner & Lerner, 2013). Although impressive, positive impacts such as behavior change, can only be made if participants remain in Extension programs over time (Pratt & Bowman, 2008). A review of the USDA 4-H enrollment reports (United States Department of Agriculture, 2010) from 1996 to 2003 indicates that 31 (54%) of the US states and territories reported declines in 4-H club enrollment. Research reveals that dropping out of 4-H occurs because 1) youth are busy with sports or other organizations, 2) youth are unhappy/unsatisfied with their clubs or projects, and 3) parents are not as involved as other parents in their child’s 4-H experience (Harder, Lamm, Lamm, Rose, & Rask, 2005; Hartley, 1983; Ritchie, & Resler, 1993). Research also shows that demographic factors influence dropout (e.g., gender, and years in program; Astroth, 1985, Harder et al., 2005), as well as entering the program as an adolescent (Defore, Fuhrman, Peake, & Duncan, 2011; Ritchie, & Resler, 1993). Most relevant to the current research is the consistent finding that one of the primary indicators for youth dropping out is being a first-year member (Astroth, 1985; Hamilton, Northern, & Neff, 2014; Harder et al., 2005; Hartley, 1983). 

Proposed Activity. This research activity is focused on understanding why youth and families join, drop out, or stay in 4-H. By learning about these factors, we can improve youth recruitment and retention in 4-H (See research questions in the “Objectives” section). As a result of the research activities across multiple states, we will have findings that are more generalizable and thereby develop steps to implement strategies across multiple states to both engage and retain more youth in 4-H programming. As a result, more youth will receive the short- and long-term benefits of 4-H, including the tools (knowledge, attitudes and skills) they need to become competent, caring, and contributing citizens of the world, as well as thriving and successful adults. This research study directly benefits 4-H youth and families, and potential youth and families, by improving the program. Further, the finding that a majority of states and territories (54%) experienced a decline in 4-H enrollments from 1996-2003 shows the problem is not limited to one environment and suggests that there are robust factors that cut across states. We need to ascertain why 26 states and territories have retained or increased their 4-H club enrollments while 31 have declined.

Although academics have investigated 4-H youth retention, most studies are within state or county boundaries with results presented as applicable to programming and youth within those geographic boundaries (e.g., Defore et al. 2011, Harder et al., 2005; Pipkin, 2016; Russell & Heck, 2005). To date, there are no multistate publications. A multistate 4-H youth retention study would increase the heterogeneity of the youth population and thus the generalizability of the findings would be greater than single-state studies. A team of Cooperative Extension staff from California, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, Wyoming have formed a research team to begin examining retention in these five states.

Related, Current and Previous Work


  1. To develop a full proposal for submission.


Measurement of Progress and Results


Outcomes or Projected Impacts


Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan


Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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