April 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB1

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Assessing the Needs of 4-H'ers

This article identifies 4-H program topics of most interest to junior high and high school students. One hundred fourteen students in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana, completed a 4-H needs assessment survey. Topics of highest interest among 4-H members and non-members were: coping with unemployment, fashion, dating, computers, and after high school. Members also ranked: teen pregnancy, suicide, and drugs as programs of highest interest. Non-members ranked: fitness, jobs, and health as priority areas. Results from this study have major implications for programming decisions regarding senior 4-H'ers.

Cathy L. Butler
Assistant Home Economist (4-H)
Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service
Ouachita Parish
West Monroe, Louisiana
Internet address: Ouachita@agctr.lsu.edu

Janette B. Bowman
Associate Professor
Institute of Gerontology
Northeast Louisiana University
Monroe, Louisiana
Internet address: igbowman@alpha.nlu.edu

The drop in 4-H membership among junior high and high school -age students concerns parents, leaders, and 4-H agents. Studies show that teenagers who participate in 4-H club activities are more likely to develop life skills in leadership, personal development, and citizenship (Cantrell, Heinsohn, & Doebler, 1989; Meszaros 1993). However, many youth become inactive during their teenage years when leadership skills are most often developed (Acosta & Holt, 1991).

Hartley (1983) suggested designing activities to address the needs and expectations of 4-H members as a means of keeping members. Others have promoted improving 4-H programs by assessing the needs of youth. The assessments are important tools in identifying potential 4-H members and in improving 4-H programs (Jones & Smith, 1988; Myer, Crites, & Haldeman, 1996).

Lerner (1995) found that successful youth programs provide program participants with intensive and individualized attention. He reported that successful programs stress diversity and respond to the individual needs of at-risk youth.

The importance of creating equal partnerships between youth and program educators was identified by the Cooperative Extension System's Strategic Plan (1994), which emphasized the value of including youth in defining, developing, and implementing 4-H programs. The 4-H staff in Ouachita Parish has used the following strategies to recruit teenage youth into 4-H programs: (a) conducted advisory committees that included 4-H teenagers;(b) received input from Junior Leaders;(c) Conducted informal focus group meetings with community leaders; and (d) addressed special program requests from the community. However, staff had not formally surveyed 4-H members and non-members to determine program needs. Recognizing that this assessment would benefit the 4-H program, a needs assessment survey was administered. This article highlights findings from the study.


The survey questionnaire was adapted from the "4-H Senior Needs Assessment" questionnaire developed by Acosta and Holt (1991). Two hundred surveys were hand-delivered to 4-H leaders at four junior high and high schools in Ouachita Parish. The schools were selected because each had an organized 4-H club. The surveys were administered by 4-H leaders during mathematics, history, and physical education classes and in 4-H club meetings.

Each 4-H leader selected the classes to be included in the sample. One hundred fourteen students who returned a parental consent form volunteered to participate in the study. The participants were in grades 6 through 12 and ranged in age from 11 to 18 years. The sample included 47 4-H members and 67 non- members.

Thirty-four program topics were included on the questionnaire. Students were asked to rank their top seven interests from one to seven, with one being the most important. The teens also indicated topics that were not of interest to them by placing "Xs" in the blanks. Even though the youth ranked seven programs that they were interested in, we concentrated on the top three programs identified by each youth. The bottom four program preferences were treated as an "X" or not important. Please refer to Table 1 for the top eight program choices identified with a ranking of one to three by 4-H members and non- members.

Table 1
4-H Members Rankings of Topics of Highest Interest
Topics Member
Coping with unemployment 26 23
Fashion 13 11
Teen pregnancy 12 10
Suicide 11 10
Drugs 11 10
Dating 10 09
Computers 10 09
After high school 10 09
Non-Member Rankings of Topics of Highest Interest
Topics Non-members
Coping with unemployment 29 25
After high school 18 16
Fitness 18 16
Dating 18 16
Jobs 15 13
Fashion 14 12
Computers 13 11
Health 11 10
Note: n = 114

Results and Implications

Coping with unemployment was ranked as the number one program preference by 4-H members and non-members. We were surprised by this. Until this survey, we did not think that this would have been a topic of interest, let alone the number one program preference of the youth. This program topic was not identified as a topic of interest in Acosta & Holt's 1991 study. Even though programs are administered through the Cooperative Extension for adults, we have not addressed this issue in our 4-H program. As a result of this study, this particular issue has been brought to the attention of our 4-H staff.

Fashion ranked second among the 4-H members. However it was not as high of a priority among the non-members. This finding was not a surprise. Our 4-H program has a well established fashion board, and this program area is one of the most traditional among our programs. However, since non-members have indicated that this is also a program interest, we have undertaken new ways of increasing awareness about our fashion program.

After high school was ranked as a high priority for non- members and was also of interest to the 4-H members. This finding was also similar to Acosta & Holt's 1991 study. According to Abell and Ludwig (1997), youth who develop a sense of identity and establish autonomy are more likely to make responsible and independent decisions. Therefore, we recognize the importance of providing opportunities for growth in this program area.

Non-members ranked fitness as a strong program interest, while this was not indicated by members. In addition the non- members indicated that they were also interested in health. Health was not indicated as a program priority among the 4-H members. We have several fitness and health programs that we administer each year including a "Family Fun Walk," for the community. However, we will use these findings in planning next year's activities to try to attract more non-members to these programs and events.

Teen pregnancy, suicide, and drugs were identified by members as program areas of interest. These topics were not identified by the non-members as important areas of interest. Currently we do not address teen pregnancy or suicide in our programs. But we do have several self-esteem programs that provide pro-active content. Teen pregnancy and suicide issues could be incorporated as facets into self-esteem programs. We will keep in mind Lerner's (1995) recommendation that these topics may require intensive and individual attention. In addition we will facilitate small discussion groups on these specific topics at our Junior Leader meetings. One of our 4-H high school clubs has been involved in developing a community service project for children on "Saying No to Drugs," but from this study we see the need for providing this information to a more diverse group.

It came as no surprise that dating and computers were of interest to both groups. Our 4-H program now has project books available that address each topic. However, the 4-H staff will be exploring new ways to market these programs.

The results from this study have been useful in improving the 4-H curriculum, in helping the advisory committee set priorities, and in program development. We realize that young people are more likely to actively participate in programs that meet their needs. This study provided us with some direction in meeting the needs of youth. We recognize that the needs assessment survey could be strengthened by involving teens in the development of the instrument. This study has enabled us to see the value of on-going needs assessment surveys and the importance of involving the teenagers in each phase of the process.


Abell, E., & Ludwig, K. B. (1997). Developmental considerations in designing parenting education for adolescent parents. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 89 (2), 41-44.

Acosta, D. T., & Holt, B. A. (1991). Give teens the programs they want.and need. Journal of Extension, 29, 29-30.

Cantrell, J., Heinsohn, A. L., & Doebler, M. K. (1989). Is it worth the costs? Journal of Extension, 27, 16-18.

Cooperative Extension System. (1994). Focus on the future: A strategic plan for 4-H and youth development. October, United States Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC.

Hartley, R. S. (1983). Keeping 4-H members. Journal of Extension, 21, 19-24.

Jones, D. A., & Smith, W. C. (1988). CPR: Purposeful action. Journal of Extension, 26, 26-28.

Lerner, R. M. (1995). Features and principles of effective youth programs: Promoting positive youth development through the integrative vision of family and consumer sciences. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 87 (4), 16-21.

Meszaros, P. S. (1993). The 21st century imperative: A collaborative ecological investment in youth. Journal of Home Economics, 85 (3), 11-20.

Myer, P. A., Crites, A. M., & Haldeman, V. A. (1996). Assessing the need for family economic well-being programs: A comparison of two samples. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 88 (3), 27-31.