Spring 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA4

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Is It Worth the Costs?


Joy Cantrell
Assistant Professor
Cooperative Extension
The University of Florida-Gainesville

Anne L. Heinsohn
Associate Professor
Cooperative Extension
The Pennsylvania State University-University Park

Melanie K. Doebler
Graduate Assistant
Cooperative Extension
The Pennsylvania State University-University Park

County, regional, state, and national 4-H events and activities play a major role in 4-H teen programming and are designed to address youth development needs. Unfortunately, these shows, contests, camps, and retreats are expensive and staff intensive. In these times of reduced resources, it's not surprising 4-H events and activities are easy and early targets for cutbacks. Before making any sweeping policy decisions about reducing these programs, youth development professionals need to take a close look at specific 4-H experiences and determine their value in terms of teens' life skill development.

A recent impact evaluation study of teen programming in Pennsylvania examined the relationship of life skill development to various 4-H experiences. The results indicate that 4-H experiences beyond the local club contribute significantly to the development of teens' life skills.

Pennsylvania's Impact Study

Following four years of teen programming emphasis, 1,500 4-H teens, randomly sampled, were asked to evaluate their program experiences. Over 760 youth between the ages of 13 and 19 responded to questions about their 4-H participation and their perceptions of their life skill development.

Fifty-five specific skills were initially identified as life skills. Using factor analysis, these skills were grouped into 10 clusters. The clusters were labeled as leadership skills, social development, personal development, value development, interpersonal skills, citizenship development, communication skills, career development, agriculture skills, and home economics skills. Participating 4-Hers rated their perceived competency in the skills within each cluster using a four-point scale. This resulted in indices reflecting the overall mastery of each life skill area.

Participation and Leadership Related to Life Skill Development

Focusing first on participation, teens were asked about their involvement in 4-H activities and events such as demonstrations, roundups, contests, and shows at the club, county, and beyond-the-county levels. In addition to general participation, 4-Hers were also asked about holding leadership positions at these events (committee chairpersons, officers, camp counselors, and emcees). In short, participation was categorized at the club, county, and beyond-county levels into general participation and leadership roles. Mean scores for each of the 10 life skill clusters were compared for significant differences between those teens participating generally and teens in leadership roles. A t-test analysis was used to test for significant differences at each of the three programming levels.

Generally, we found that perceived life skill development was positively related to general participation and leadership roles at the three succeeding levels of 4-H programming. As would be expected, the surveyed 4-H teens were very active at the club level with 98% reporting general participation experiences and 90% reporting roles in club leadership. At the county level, 92% cited general participation with 41% indicating leadership roles; beyond-the-county level, the figures were 68% and 17%, respectively.

Teens' general participation in 4-H Club activities showed a positive and statistically significant relationship to their life skill development in the areas of leadership, personal development, and citizenship. Teens reporting leadership roles at the club level had higher interpersonal skill levels than those 4-Hers who didn't hold such positions (see Table 1).

The study revealed that life skill development dramatically increased when teens experienced leadership roles beyond-the-club level. General participation at the county level was positively related to only one life skill area: value development. However, teens reporting participation in leadership roles at the county level indicated increased life skill development in eight of the 10 life skill areas.

Participation in 4-H activities and events beyond-the-county level had an even greater impact on perceived life skill development. General participation beyond-the-county level was positively related to life skill development in five areas; participating as leader in these same 4-H experiences positively affected life skill development in nine of the10 life skill clusters.

Table 1. Relationship of 4-H experiences and life skill development.

Program level General participation Leadership roles
Club    98%    90%
* Leadership Skills    Leadership Skills
   Social Development    Social Development
* Personal Development    Personal Development
   Value Development    Value Development
   Interpersonal Skills * Interpersonal Skills
* Citizenship Development    Citizenship Development
   Communication Skills    Communication Skills
   Career Development    Career Development
   Agriculture Skills    Agriculture Skills
   Home Economics Skills    Home Economics Skills
County    92%    41%
   Leadership Skills * Leadership Skills
   Social Development * Social Development
   Personal Development * Personal Development
* Value Development * Value Development
   Interpersonal Skills    Interpersonal Skills
   Citizenship Development * Citizenship Development
   Communication Skills * Communication Skills
   Career Development * Career Development
   Agriculture Skills * Agriculture Skills
   Home Economics Skills    Home Economics Skills
Beyond county    68%    17%
* Leadership Skills * Leadership Skills
* Social Development * Social Development
   Personal Development * Personal Development
* Value Development * Value Development
   Interpersonal Skills * Interpersonal Skills
* Citizenship Development * Citizenship Development
* Communication Skills * Communication Skills
   Career Development * Career Development
   Agriculture Skills * Agriculture Skills
   Home Economics Skills    Home Economics Skills
* Indicates that life skill scores were significantly different
(alpha<.05) between participation and nonparticipation.

What Does It Mean?

Clearly, 4-H activities and events are major factors in promoting life skill development. At succeeding levels of programming, life skill development increases. This becomes particularly evident when leadership roles are introduced; holding leadership positions in 4-H events and activities profoundly affects perceived life skill development. What are the implications of these findings for 4-H programming?

The overall mission of 4-H is "to assist youth in acquiring knowledge, developing life skills, and forming attitudes which will enable them to become self-directing, productive, and contributing members of society."1 The results of Pennsylvania's impact study indicate that curtailing or eliminating 4-H activities and events could have serious consequences in fulfilling our mission. In times of reduced resources, the most expensive and staff intensive 4-H programs are earmarked for cutbacks. However, in terms of developing life skills of 4-H teens, it's those very programs that are the most effective.

What can be done to save regional, state, and national 4-H activities and events? First, it's important to realize their value. They aren't, as some believe, a waste of precious resources that provide a vacation for 4-H youth. Rather, they're valuable, nonformal, educational experiences that help 4-H teens develop their life skills. In terms of our mission, they're well worth the expense.

As for the problem of reduced staff, 4-H youth themselves may hold the answer. Study results indicate that leadership participation in regional, state, and national 4-H activities and events enhances the development of life skills. Therefore, it's important to provide opportunities for 4-H teens to hold leadership positions. Teens can be prepared to carry responsible roles throughout the planning and implementation of 4-H events. In the past, staff and adult leaders have been required to carry out supervisory and teaching duties. However, older and experienced teens can do much of what adults traditionally have done for these events. Teens can act as group leaders, teach workshops, and handle many of the administrative details such as dormitory supervision. Building teen leadership experiences into 4-H activities and events not only provides youth with valuable life skill development opportunities, but also stretches Extension's staff resources.

By recognizing the value of regional, state, and national 4-H
events and activities, and by delegating leadership responsibilities to 4-H teens, 4-H can continue to provide quality programming beyond the county level to enhance teens' life skill development. After all, isn't youth development what 4-H is all about?


1. Extension Service, USDA, Challenge and Change: A Blueprint for the Future (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1983).