Despite the prevalence of first-year 4-H member dropout, there is limited research focused on understanding the specific experiences of first-year youth that contribute to dropping out. One area that has received attention is the influence of parents. Research primarily focused on sports and leisure activities has found that there is an influence by parents. Harder and Lamm recently looked at youth retention in 4-H, focused on teen drop-out, and found that parents did in fact have an influence on keeping their kids in 4-H. However, this research didn’t look at the largest group of youth leaving the program, first year members.
Out of school time (OST) programs, like 4-H, have been shown to positively impact youth. For example, 4-H youth earn higher grades, have higher civic engagement, and engage in less risky behavior (Lerner & Lerner, 2013). Although impressive, positive impacts, like behavior change, can only be made if participants remain in Extension programs over time (Pratt & Bowman, 2008).
Previous research has shown retention in OST programs is influenced by demographics factors (e.g., age, gender, and years in program; Astroth, 1985; Defore, Fuhrman, Peake, & Duncan, 2011; Harder, A., Lamm, Rose, & Rask, 2005). Consistent evidence shows one of the primary indicators for youth dropout is being a first-year member (Astroth, 1985; Hamilton, Northern, & Neff, 2014; Harder et al., 2005; Hartley, 1983). Enrollment data from California confirms this pattern of increased dropout after the first year in the program (Lewis et al., 2016).
More in-depth studies have identified other factors that impact retention, such as youth being busy with sports or other organizations, youth being unhappy/unsatisfied with their clubs or projects, and parents not being involved (Harder et al., 2005; Hartley, 1983; Ritchie & Resler, 1993). However, these studies did not focus on the highest group to dropout, first-year 4-H members. The goal of the 4-H Youth Retention research study is to identify factors specific to the first-year experience that may predict intent to re-enroll in 4-H for a second year and considerations that influence youth and their families to continue their involvement in the 4-H Youth Development Program.