October 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 5 // Research in Brief // 5RIB5

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4-H Projects: Is Completion Important?

There are, by policy, no standards or requirements for 4-H membership that compels an individual to complete a project. This baseline study gained information on project completion of two project areas in 1996-1997 in West Virginia: 4-H animal science and food preparation. Data were collected and analyzed from reviews of 7,569 project enrollment forms from 45 projects. The overall completion rate was 67.3%. Results of this study provide direction for defining project completion and its importance in providing a viable educational program for 4-H youth. Further inquiry into factors affecting completion of 4-H projects needs to be made. Completion rate could also be one measure for evaluating project curricular content and project support by leaders and/or parents.

Jean M. Woloshuk
Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Agriculture
Internet address: jwoloshu@wvu.edu

Guendoline Brown
Extension Specialist, Nutrition and Health
Internet address: gbrown@wvu.edu

Gena D. Wagaman
Internet address: gwagaman@wvu.edu

West Virginia University Extension Service
Morgantown, West Virginia


"Learning by doing" has been the fundamental principle of 4-H since its inception. Projects are a major curriculum emphasis. Since 1912, projects have diversified from the basic corn, pigs, tomatoes, flowers, sewing, and canning topics to more than 100 project areas (Extension Committee on Organization and Policy,.1985). In the West Virginia 4-H program, a project is defined as a "method for teaching girls and boys many new skills. A variety of topics is offered. Members share in setting goals, making decisions, learning and evaluating" (4-H Volunteer Visions, 1996, p.2).

Project completion is defined by a three-fold process; a project exhibit as specified by a particular project, a completed project booklet, and a 4-H activity record (Division of Family and 4-H Youth Development, 1996b). Project completion is frequently used to determine awards and recognition relative to individual 4-H member's progress.

Each year, many questions arise regarding project selection, content, usage, costs, completion, and how this educational methodology for learning is beneficial to youth participants. Demonstrating positive results, however, has been difficult, and reported advantages of participation are often more suggestive than definitive.

Purpose of the Study

This baseline study was designed to gain information on project completion of the project areas of animal science and food preparation in 1996-1997. This information will be useful to Extension personnel and local leaders in adjusting 4-H programs to more effectively meet the needs of youth. In addition, information obtained may promote further study to provide a practical approach in counseling youth relative to joining and participating in specific 4-H projects and activities.

Data collected in this study are baseline for 4-H Animal Science and Food Preparation project areas for 1996-1997. New projects were added in 1996-1997 and are not consistent with previous curriculum. Therefore, the results of this study do not generalize to other project areas or to previous studies. Terminology and semantics of "project completion" have very limited identification in current literature. In addition there are, by policy, no standards or requirements for 4-H membership that an individual must complete a project.

Discussion of Previous Work

Project completion has been an area of interest and concern for a long time. In 1930, project completion in West Virginia was about 50%. With a concerted effort, project completion was increased to 72% by 1940, and by 1946 was 79% (Rapking, 1980). Snyder and Rogers (1986) reported that project completion rate in 1960 in West Virginia was 77%. A study by Snyder and Rogers determined a 58% rate in 1986.

Project completion as a statistic is of little consequence. In dealing with the question of project completion, there are two fundamental questions: (a) Why is project completion important? and (b) How can project completion be achieved? (Rapking, 1980)

In answering the first question, what is important is what happens to a young person who joins 4-H. Youth development is the mission of 4-H and allows individuals to acquire knowledge and life skills that enable them to become productive citizens and catalysts for positive change to meet the needs of a diverse and changing society (Divsion of Family and 4-H Youth Development, 1996b).

Helping youth become capable, contributing, and caring members of society requires an understanding of youth and their basic needs. Some basic needs identified are: (a) youth want to belong. This helps them grow and establish feelings of personal worth gained from the value that others place on them; (b) youth want to achieve. Children need tasks that are challenging but within their reach, and they need to know that their efforts are worthwhile and appreciated; and (c) youth want to become independent. They need to know that someone cares despite their shortcomings (Washington State University Cooperative Extension, 1994). Youth need to develop a positive view of themselves and their relationship to the world in which they live. If they can view themselves as capable individuals who can deal with daily challenges and have a realistic understanding of their abilities, they have a greater chance for success.

Project completion is also important because youth need to have the experiences of committing themselves to a challenging task and the reinforcement of successfully completing the task. It seems to be easier for people to start things than to complete them. Farmers only partially adopt many innovations. Families begin nutritional changes, but have trouble seeing them through. Communities begin a development process, but many lose energy and interest along the way, and the process languishes. What young people learn about seeing things through to the end will affect what they do as adults.

To address the question of how project completion can be achieved, youth educators (both volunteer and paid staff), must choose teaching techniques that will help 4-H members to learn, while incorporating activities of listening, seeing, and doing. Rapking (1980) described a general strategy which included being sure that the 4-H member and the project are compatible. Project selection requires that parents and leaders work closely to help the youth assess his or her abilities and resources as well as interests in selecting a project.

When the task is completed it is important that parents and leaders help the youth assess how well he or she has done and to feel good about what was accomplished. This does not mean that every child will win first prize or should expect to. It does mean that, with appropriate support, every child has the potential to be successful in advancing his or her skills and producing a product of which they can be proud.

The habit of seeing things through to the end most likely begins in childhood, so it's particularly important to understand factors that affect completion of 4-H projects. Many youth complete none of the projects they select, while others may complete one or more.

Scott, Clark and Reagan (1990) conducted a study designed to identify factors that influenced 4-H clothing project completion. An analysis of reasons for project completion in one project can provide useful information for leaders and agents in other project and program areas. Findings of the study were that both parental encouragement and role models were significant factors affecting project completion. Of the 83 youth studied, 48% were encouraged to complete a project by parents, and 69% had been praised by parents for doing a good job. Role models tend to be a strong influence on youth.

Leadership also proved to be highly significant in clothing project completion. Local leaders were reported helpful to project completion by 47% of the youth. A higher percentage (69%) reported that the 4-H agent was helpful in project completion. Youth who were more aware of 4-H clothing opportunities were more likely to complete a project. Incentives proved to be significantly correlated with project completion.

Scott, Clark, & Reagan (1990) also concluded that specific factors influence project completion among 4-H youth. Intervention by Extension agents and parents can increase success. Educating parents about their influence on the level of achievement reached by their children in 4-H projects can lead to more youth participation and completion of projects. Involvement of parents as leaders is an ideal way to increase awareness of the 4-H program. This study pointed out that a high percentage of youth depended on their 4-H agent for help in project completion rather than their local leader. Ideally, local leaders help youth to complete projects, thus allowing agents more time to train more leaders. Therefore, special efforts must be made to find people genuinely concerned with leading the 4-H projects and helping youth understand the leader's role is to help with projects.

Evidence cited by Scott, Clark & Reagan (1990) showed that members took the clothing project to develop their sewing skills. Members viewed learning to sew and receiving praise from their parents as incentives. However, the members discovered the project also included competition and record keeping, factors that may not be strong incentives for project completion. Perhaps projects could be modified to emphasize doing rather than evaluating and competing. In any case, all goals should be identified in the presentation of projects to potential 4-H members. This study indicated the importance of factors that encourage and support youth in completing and following through on what they start.

Youth research supports the findings of the Scott, Clark, & Reagan study (1990). Jenson (1982) found that parental encouragement seemed to be the most potent reason for joining 4-H. Weber and McCullers (1986) found that 4-H professionals selected parental involvement as the item needing most emphasis in 4-H programming. Whether parents or other adults serve as leaders, the need exists for more leader training and active involvement with club members.

Stephens (1983) found that the three major reasons for failure of youth groups were absence of a leader, lack of commitment, and need for leader support. Coward (1978) and Culbert (1983) showed that publicity and awareness also affect participation. Once members decide to participate in an activity, leaders and agents must understand the recognition members are seeking through participation. Adults need competence in effectively using incentives and recognition when working with youth.

Research Methodology

The indirect target population for this study included 4-H members enrolled in animal science and food preparation projects during 1996-1997. Their enrollment, selection and completion of projects were recorded and maintained by the direct target population, which included the agent responsible for 4-H in each county.

The descriptive method of research using the inquiry form technique was utilized. Information was gathered through a 4-H Project Review Summary Form developed by the investigators. This method of research was deemed appropriate because of its ability to describe the current status of a problem, to become familiar with phenomena, to gain insights, and to describe the characteristics of a group or situation.

Following a review of literature, a 4-H Project Review Summary Form was developed to gather data from Extension agents responsible for 4-H in regards to the project enrollment and completion of animal science and food preparation projects. At the deadline date, 42 counties or 76.4% had returned the project review summary. Data were organized and analyzed to indicate total number of projects youth were enrolled in, number completed, and percentage completion. A summary table of the data was constructed.

Findings and Discussion

Each year many questions arise regarding projects and completion rates in the West Virginia 4-H Program. This project review of the 4-H Animal Science and Food Preparation projects was undertaken to gain information on the completion rate of these respective projects. This information may be useful to Extension personnel and local leaders in adjusting 4-H programs to more effectively meet the needs of youth. In addition, information obtained may promote further study to provide a practical approach in counseling youth relative to joining and participating in specific 4-H projects and activities (see table 1).

Data in Table 1 illustrates the project information for the Animal Science project areas for the 1996-1997 4-H year.

Table 1
1996-1997 Animal Science 4-H Project Review
Animal Science #Enrolled #Completed Rate (%)
1101 Baby Chicks 65 22 33.84
1102 Laying Flock 38 24 63.15
1103 Turkeys 11 6 54.54
1081 Purebred Pig 22 14 63.63
1082 Market Hog, Beginner 330 293 88.78
1083 Market Hog,Intermediate 164 149 90.85
1084 Market Hog, Advanced 92 82 89.13
1071 Purebred Sheep 62 48 77.42
1072 Market Lamb 615 536 87.15
1041 Bite Into Beef(Beef 1) 508 401 78.94
1042 On the Mooove(Beef 2) 85 65 76.47
1043 Leading the Charge
(Beef 3)



1044 4-H Beef Heifer
Record Guide



1045 4-H Feeder Calf
Record Guide



1046 4-H Market Steer
Record Guide



1051 Dig Into Dairy (Dairy 1) 48 44 91.67
1052 Moooving Ahead (Dairy 2) 16 14 87.50
1053 Leading the Way (Dairy 3) 19 14 73.68
1054 4-H Dairy Record Guide 87 72 82.75
1131 4-H Goat I 44 24 54.54
1132 4-H Goat II 21 15 71.43
1133 4-H Goat III 9 7 77.77
1134 4-H Goat IV 10 10 100.00
1135 4-H Goat Chevon (Meat) 16 15 93.75
1111 Training Your Dog for
Family Living



1112 The Care of Dogs and



1113 Dog Obedience - Beginners
& Graduate Beginners



1114 Grooming & Handling
of Dogs



1031 Vet Science I -
The Normal Animal



1032 Vet Science II -
Animal Diseases



1121 Rabbit Raising 166 87 52.41
1141 Small Pets 676 424 62.72
1061 Light Horse 1st Year 234 140 59.83
1062 Light Horse 2nd Year 99 74 74.75
1063 Light Horse 3rd Year 69 56 81.16
1064 Light Horse 4th Year 44 32 72.73
1065 Horse and Horsemanship
(5th Year)



1066 Wanted Horse - Unit I 119 60 50.42
1067 Wanted Horse - Unit II 42 23 54.76

In the animal science area, new project curriculum was introduced in the beef and dairy subject matter areas for the 1996-1997 4-H year. The new North Central juried curriculum (Bite Into Beef 1, On the Mooove Beef 2, Leading the Charge Beef 3, Dig Into Dairy 1, Moooving Ahead Dairy 2, and Leading the Way Dairy 3) is designed so that each project book contains activities for three years.

The 4-H'ers must complete at least seven achievement level activities each year and if enrolled with an animal they need to select beef heifer, feeder calf, market steer, or dairy record guide to accompany the respective project. If enrolled without an animal, 4-H'ers are to consult with their Extension agent regarding usage of the self-determined project as a resource to complete the North Central curriculum. Data indicate project completion rates in the beef areas ranged 66.96% to 85.83%. In the dairy project area, the completion rates ranged from 73.68% to 91.67%.

Project leader training was conducted at the county level upon request and at state events such as Volunteer Leaders Weekend to introduce the new curriculum and provide technical support for working with the 4-H youth.

The turkeys project book was revised for the 1996-1997 4-H year. Six out of eleven or 54.54% of the 4-H'ers completed the project. No project training was conducted in this project area.

Project data are illustrated in Table 1 for other animal science project areas in which youth were enrolled during the 1996-1997 4-H year. An overall project completion rate for the animal science area was 71.8%.

In food preparation, information was based on the usage of a nationally juried food curriculum purchased from Purdue University. Four age-graded manuals, entitled "Six Easy Bites," "Tasty Tidbits," "You're the Chef," and "Foodworks" address healthy food selection, smart food purchasing, food preparation, food safety, food preservation and food careers. "Six Easy Bites" (Level A) and "Tasty Tidbits" (Level B) are each designed to be used for two years. "You're the Chef" (Level C) and "Foodworks" (Level D) are designed to be used for three years.

Information was also collected on two additional projects: "Fit It All Together I" and "Fit It All Together II." These projects have been used in West Virginia for a number of years. Their use was discontinued at the end of the 1997-98 4-H year. Data were collected on the number of members enrolled in each project and the number of members completing a project. Percent completion rates were determined (see Table 2).

Table 2
1996-1997 Food Preparation Project Review
Food Preparation # Enrolled # Completed Rate (%)
3061 Six Easy Bites (Level A) 1164 708 60.82
3062 Tasty Tidbits (Level B) 355 226 63.66
3063 You're The Chef (Level C) 159 97 61.00
3064 Foodworks (Level D) 60 32 53.33
3065 Fit it Altogether I 453 170 37.52
3066 Fit it Altogether II 27 20 74.07

It is interesting to note that the completion rates (60.82% to 61.00%) are approximately the same for youth ranging from approximately nine years of age to approximately 15 years, when enrolled in projects using the new manuals. Older youth enrolled in "Foodworks" reported a somewhat lower rate of completion (53.33%).

Data from the two projects that have been in use for a number of years also present interesting findings. "Fit It All Together I" had a high enrollment but a low rate of completion (37.52%). The reason for the low completion rate may be due to the manual being used in a school classroom setting rather than a club setting. The classroom setting may have provided less individualized supervision than was available in the club setting. Finally, "Fit It All Together II" had the lowest enrollment of any of the Food Preparation projects. However, it had the highest completion rate (74.07%) of all projects.

This was the first time food preparation project manuals designed for multiple year enrollment were used in West Virginia. While concern was expressed when the projects were introduced, there were many positive comments made as the program year progressed. Follow-up study needs to be conducted on the number of years each manual is actually used by individual youths and if project interest is sustained, determined by project completion rates. Project leader training for use of the new project manuals was conducted at the county level when requested and at a statewide in-service training session. Additionally, the state nutrition and health specialist was available for face-to-face and telephone consultation as needed. An overall completion rate for all Food Preparation projects was 62.58% for the 1996-1997 4-H year.

Implications for the Future

This study was designed to gain information on project completion in the 1996-1997 4-H animal science and food preparation projects. A need exists for further study to determine and understand factors affecting completion. In addition, there is a need to define project completion and its importance in providing a viable educational program for 4-H youth. Whether an exhibition at the fair or a project display makes a completed project are valid questions that need to be answered by youth educators. In addition, youth educators need to determine if youth performing a certain number of learning exercises to achieve a subject matter expertise, based on individual goal setting, is project completion. Completion rate could also be one measure for evaluating project curricular content and project support by leaders and/or parents to increase the achievement of the youth.


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