Spring 1993 // Volume 31 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA5

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Youth Participation

This study was designed to investigate satisfaction with participation in 4-H among older youth. The major purpose was to determine factors related to their satisfaction with 4-H activities.

Emmalou Norland
Associate Professor
Department of Agricultural Education
Ohio State University-Columbus

Melissa Beaver Bennett
Soil Conservationist
Darby Creek Watershed
Soil Conservation Service, Urbana, Ohio

Unlike formal education, 4-H youth activities are voluntary educational experiences. Members choose to participate and some, unfortunately, choose to drop out. The 4-H dropout phenomenon has been studied by many.1 Still, findings conflict and youth workers are far from understanding the reasons for continued participation or dropout from the 4-H program.

Dissatisfaction with participation has been found to be highly associated with quitting.2 Theories of participation in adult education include satisfaction as an important precursor to dropout or continuance.3 To understand participation and persistence and dropout, it also makes sense to include studies of factors related to satisfaction with participation.

Purpose and Objectives

This study was designed to investigate satisfaction with participation in 4-H among older youth. The major purpose was to determine factors related to their satisfaction with 4-H activities. The first objective of the study was to determine the relationship between satisfaction with 4-H and a number of factors (independent variables) that may influence satisfaction. Categories of independent variables included: demographics (urban or rural location, gender, tenure in 4-H); perception factors (responsibility, commitment, peer pressure, older member activities, parental involvement, working with younger members, competition); and project, club, and family characteristics (number and type of projects, quality of 4-H Club meetings, adviser involvement, family involvement, local, state, and national activities). The second objective was to determine which factors best predict satisfaction.

A series of research hypotheses based on a review of literature was developed to help investigate the first objective. All relationships specified between independent variables and satisfaction were hypothesized to be positive except for gender and urban or rural location that sported no difference hypotheses.


A mail questionnaire was used to gather data. A random cluster sample (clustered by counties) of 400 was drawn from 6,963 Ohio 4-Hers aged 13-19 years old. The instrument, designed by the researchers, contained summated Likert-type scales to measure most variables; others were measured by "fill-in-the- blank" or "yes/no" type items. Summated scales were assessed for reliability using Cronbach's Alphas, which ranged from .53-.90. The instrument was assessed for content and face validity by a panel of experts in 4-H youth work and research methodology. Data were gathered, following procedures by Dillman4 during Fall 1989.

Because the data sample was 257 out of a possible 400 (64%), a random sample follow-up with nonrespond-ents was used to assess the generalizability of the data. Data were collected by telephone from the sample of nonrespondents and then compared to respondents. The comparison showed no significant differences on the major variables of the study; thus, the results have been generalized to the population of 6,963.5 Analysis included descriptive, correlational, and stepwise regression techniques.


Terminology specified by Davis6 is used to describe the size of the correlations among variables (see Figure 1). Substantial positive relationships were found between satisfaction with 4-H participation and commitment (.62), responsibility (.59), working with younger members (.59), quality 4-H Club meetings (.68), and positive parental support (.51).

Figure 1. Correlations among variables.

Moderate positive relationships were found between satisfaction and opportunity to participate in "older member" activities (.44), positive experiences with competition (.42), and participation in club, county, state, and national activities (.35).

Low positive relationships were found between satisfaction and adviser participation (.28), number and type of projects taken (.22), peer pressure (.11), and tenure as a 4-H member (.23). No relationship was found between the level of family involvement and satisfaction, and no difference was found between urban and rural respondents on the level of satisfaction.

The set of best predictors of satisfaction included (in order of stepwise entry): high quality 4-H Club meetings, high levels of responsibility, high commitment, positive parental involvement and support, positive experiences with competition, opportunities to work with younger members, gender (girls were more satisfied than boys), and high participation in 4-H activities. Total variance accounted for by these factors was 69%.

Conclusions and Implications

Results showed that some similar affective feelings contributed the most to member satisfaction: commitment, responsibility, and the feelings gained when working with younger members. The findings suggest that the 4-H program should be structured to maximize opportunities for older members to become committed, gain responsibility, and serve others-especially younger members.

High quality club meetings were related to member satisfaction. Other experiential factors such as older member activities, positive competitive experiences, and club, state, and national activities were also related to satisfaction, but not as strongly as these affective feelings gained through those experiences. Thus, regardless of the type of 4-H activity, importance should be placed on the design of the activity to produce opportunities for responsibility and contribution to others.

Positive parental involvement was highly related to satisfaction, yet past and current family involvement with 4-H other than with the member's experiences had no relationship with satisfaction. This conclusion suggests that the member's perceptions of support by his or her parent, not actual parental involvement, leads to satisfaction. A parent who has never been involved with 4-H, yet supports a child in his or her participation, can provide as positive an experience as those parents who are past members or even current advisers. 4-H professionals can encourage parents to be positive supporters without necessarily having to make a large personal commitment to the 4-H program.

Very low relationships were found between satisfaction and some previously studied factors of number and type of projects taken, adviser participation, peer pressure, and tenure as a 4-H member. Many resources are devoted to project book development. Much emphasis has been placed on volunteer adviser development. Peer pressure has been lamented as a great deterrent to participation and policy has been built on the belief that the longer the 4-H member stays involved, the more likely he or she will continue. This study failed to give additional support to these four variables as important to an older 4-Her's satisfaction. These findings imply that policies could be revised to reduce funding for project book development, downsize volunteer development efforts, and concentrate programs as much on the long-tenure 4-H members as the new recruits.

Urban and rural youth exhibited no differences in their satisfaction, even though traditionally those programs have been vastly different in their approach and activities. Perhaps the design of the 4-H program in general, not the specific 4-H activities, is related to satisfaction. What the 4-Her receives from the experience (feelings of responsibility) may be more important than that experience itself (club and state activities). More study is needed to investigate the differences among urban and rural 4-H programs and the ultimate effects, if any, these differences spawn.


1. Jamie Cano and Joanne Bankston, "Factors That Influence Participation and Non-Participation of Enthnic Minority Youth in Ohio 4-H Programs" (Columbus: The Ohio State University, The Ohio State University Seed Grant, Staff Study, 1992) and Annette M. Ellis, "Characteristics Associated with the Level of 4-H Club Enrollment in the Alabama Cooperative System" (Ph.D. dissertation, The Ohio State University, Columbus,1990).

2. J. G. March and H. A. Simon, Organizations (New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1958).

3. E. Van Tilburg, Participation and Persistence in Continuing Lifelong Learning Experiences of the Ohio Cooperative Extension Service: An Investigation Using Expectancy Valence (Paper presented at Fifteenth Annual National Agricultural Education Research Meeting, St. Louis, Missouri, 1988).

4. D. A. Dillman, Mail and Telephone Surveys: The Total Design Method (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1978).

5. R. V. Krejcie and D. W. Morgan, "Determining Sample Size for Research Activities," Educational and Psychological Measurement, XXX (No. 3,1970), 607-10.

6. J. A. Davis, Elementary Survey Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971).