July 1983 // Volume 21 // Number 4 // Feature Articles

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Keeping 4-H Members

Those youth who reenroll or drop 4-H tend to be distinct. 4-H recruitment, program, and leadership strategies can enhance reenrollment in the second year.

Richard S. Hartley
Extension Agent
4-H, Ritchie County
West Virginia

The dropout rate for first-year 4-H members concerns 4-H leaders and agents. Can we identify those likely to drop out and those likely to stay in 4-H?

"4-H Club programs provide many educational opportunities for young people to acquire desirable ways of thinking, feeling, and acting."1 The 4-H program can't meet its objectives and goals if its members drop out after the first year.

What can we do to reduce the dropout rate? An examination of possible factors associated with reenrollment was needed.

West Virginia Study

A recently completed West Virginia study determined reenrollmentanddro out rates of 776first-year4-H Club members, ages 8-11.2 This 1982 study also examined various factors that seemed to have a bearing on whether a person will stay in 4-H after the first year. From study findings, implications for curriculum, organizational, and personnel decisions were established.

The dropout of first-year 4-H Club members reduces the length of participation by youth in the 4-H program. Program goals and objectives can't be met if 4-H members drop out after their first year.


Sources of information to determine factors associated with reenrollment were responses from 4-H reenrollees, dropouts, and nonmembers; perceptions of 4-H Club leaders and Extension agents; and the examination of Extension office and school records.

The three parts of this West Virginia study included: (1) a questionnaire completed by 4-H re-enrollees, dropouts, and nonmembers in Ritchie County; (2) a replication in Harrison County of relevant parts of a 1951 4-H re-enrollment study;3 and (3) an extension of this partial replication in the Parkersburg Extension area (Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler, Wirt, and Wood counties).

Part 1 of the study was the questionnaire completed by 44 re-enrollees, 21 dropouts, and 54 nonmembers in Ritchie County to investigate factors such as participation in 4-H activities, group membership, parental support, and preferences for individual, family, or group activities. The return rate of the population for this questionnaire was 89% (4-H reenrollees, 100%; 4-H dropouts, 91 %; nonmembers, 81 %). Overall school achievement scores, reading scores, and family economic levels of all youth in this Ritchie County population were compared as possible re-enrollment factors.

Parts 2 and 3 were the partial replication studies in both Harrison County and in the Parkersburg area. The effects of project completion and recognition, member's age at first enrollment, and the sex of 776 first-year 4-H members as re-enrollment factors were examined. Also, information about the factors of leader effectiveness, leader tenure, member/leader ratios, club size, and type of 4-H Club were collected.

These potential re-enrollment factors were compared with 4-H re-enrollees and dropouts. Significant differences among these comparisons were determined by the use of chi-square values and Fisher exact probability scores.


The major findings and conclusions of this study were:

  1. The reenrollment rate among the 776 first-year 4-H members in 9 West Virginia counties was 55%. The dropout rate was 45%.

  2. Member participation in 4-H activities was directly associated with re-enrollment by first-year 4-H Club members. First-year 4-H members in Ritchie County who rejoined attended more club meetings and took part in 4-H events and activities more often than did first-year 4-H dropouts (see Figure 1).

  3. The cooperation of parents and their support of the first-year 4-H members were related to re-enrollment. The parents of 4-H re-enrollees were more supportive than parents of dropouts according to ratings by 4-H members and club leaders.

  4. Young people, ages 8-11, did want to belong to organized youth groups. These youngsters had similar expectations about being a member of a group. They wanted "to be with friends," "to have fun," "to make or do something," and "to receive praise."

  5. The completion of a 4-H project and the receiving of a project ribbon was directly associated with reenrollment. Some 79% of the reenrollees finished their 4-H project, while only 24% of the dropouts did.

  6. The older 4-H members were when they enrolled the first time, the less likely they were to continue.

  7. No significant differences were indicated among reenrollees, dropouts, and nonmembers as to their school achievement scores, reading scores, and family economic levels in Ritchie County.

  8. 4-H Club leaders with a 51-100% rate of first-year member reenrollment received more positive ratings for leader effectiveness from Extension agents than did 4-H Club leaders with a 0-50% reenrollment rate. 4-H Club leaders received their lowest ratings from Extension agents on the following items: attending leader training, promoting parent cooperation, and developing teamwork.

  9. The ratio of 4-H members to 4-H leaders was inversely associated with reenrollment. The highest rate of first-year member reenrollment occurred with the ratio of 1-7 members per adult leader and in the club size of 11-20 members. Community 4-H Clubs had a higher reenrollment rate than did school 4-H Clubs.

  10. Sex of club member, leader tenure, desired types of recognition, and preferences about individual, family, or group activities weren't associated with reenrollment in this study.

Figure 1.
Difference in participation of reenrollees versus dropouts.

Difference in participation of reenrollees versus dropouts.
Source: Richard S. Hartley, "Factors and Characteristics Associated with Reenrollment and Dropout of Younger First Year 4-H Members in Selected West Virginia Counties" (Ed.D. dissertation, West Virginia University, Morgantown, 1982).


Based on these findings, here are some recommendations relevant to curriculum, organizational, and personnel decisions:

Curriculum Decisions
  1. Provide opportunities and encourage participation of first-year 4-H Club members in 4-H activities.
  2. Use personal and tangible recognition frequently.
  3. Design activities to meet the needs and expectations of 4-H members.
  4. Plan 4-H activities to encourage the participation of the entire family.
  5. Conduct project workshops to help project learning and completion.
  6. Conduct leader training to provide support systems (event knowledge, leadership experiences, recognition) to promote leader effectiveness.
Organizational Decisions
  1. Concentrate the recruitment efforts on 8- and 9-year-old youth instead of 10- and 11-year-old youth.
  2. Organize community-type 4-H Clubs, if possible, instead of school 4-H Clubs.
  3. Emphasize small member/leader ratios in new 4-H Clubs and in the reorganization of existing clubs.
  4. Encourage adult leadership to maintain 4-H Clubs with a moderate membership size.
Personnel Decisions
  1. Encourage 4-H Club leaders to promote parent involvement and cooperation.
  2. Recruit leaders to participate in leader training as a club leadership responsibility.
  3. Promote teamwork among leaders and parents.


The dropout of first-year 4-H Club members reduces thelength of participation by youth in the 4-H program. Program goals and objectives can't be met if 4-H members drop out after their first year.

The community 4-H Club program may increase the reenrollment rate of its first-year members by making some program adjustments. The 4-H staff needs to encourage 4-H leaders to provide opportunities for member participation and recognition to meet the various needs of youth. The first-year 4-Her must take an active part in 4-H programs earlier in the club year. Volunteer 4-H leaders need to welcome and encourage parents and other family members to become involved in 4-H. Project learning, completion, and recognition in 4-H must be emphasized.


  1. Ralph W. Tyler, "The Educational Potential of 4-H," in Selected Readings and References in 4-H Club Work (Madison: University of Wisconsin, National Agricultural Extension Center for Advanced Study, 1961), p. 12.
  2. Richard S. Hartley, "Factors and Characteristics Associated with Reenrollment and Dropout of Younger First Year 4-H Members in Selected West Virginia Counties" (Ed.D. dissertation, West Virginia University, Morgantown, 1982).
  3. Sarah I. Harman, "A Study of Factors Associated with Reenrollment of First Year Club Members in Harrison County, West Virginia" (Master's thesis, Cornell University, Ithaca, 1951).