Winter 1989 // Volume 27 // Number 4 // Commentary // 4LET1

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It's Not Worth the Cost


Cantrell, Heinsohn, and Doebler ("Is It Worth the Cost?" Journal of Extension, Spring 1989) reported findings to support their claims that 4-H experiences beyond the local club level contribute significantly to the development of teens' life skills. They compare three levels of 4-H involvement: club, county, and beyond county, and concluded that participation in activities beyond the club level had more of an impact on 4-H member life skill development than club or county-level involvement.

A more thorough analysis of their study doesn't support the central thesis that "beyond-county" activities are worth the cost.

The first issue I'd raise is the validity of a study based on a low rate of return: is it not possible that the 50.7% who returned the survey were representative of a more highly motivated class of 4-H youngsters than those who didn't respond? Their results are further confounded because we don't know how "beyond-county" activities are delineated. Does it mean bi-county or tri-county activities, regional, or state? The question of cost benefit for "beyond-county" activities must take into account the percentage of participation at each level, and a comparison of cost benefits for each succeeding level.

The authors make an excellent point in advocating the use of teen leaders to handle the administrative and leadership roles. Their argument, however, doesn't answer the question: Is it worth the cost? I have to answer with a resounding no. They don't show that "beyond-county" activities provide enough benefit to warrant the expenditures of limited 4-H program resources. They report that those who participated in county activities increased life skill development in eight of the 10 life skill areas compared to "beyond-county" activities that affected life skill development in nine of the 10 life skill clusters. Can we continue to spend an inordinate amount of money and staff time to support an activity that provides only minimally more benefit than county participation? In my opinion, 4-H staff would make better use of their time and resources by providing meaningful educational activities at the county level.

James R. Valadez
4-H Advisor
University of California-Ventura