Keeping Them Past Middle School

Upon examination of 4-H enrollment statistics nationwide it is pretty typical that we see enrollment increase up until peaking around age 11, at which point we see it begin to decline. Why?

I’m currently working on some research related to 4-H member retention, and it’s highlighted some interesting ideas:

  • Parental involvement has been linked to retention (Defore et al., 2011; Gill, Ewing & Bruce 2010; Hamilton & Kenny, 1988). We spend a lot of time marketing to youth, but at least until age 16 that youth is completely dependent on their parent support. How do you market to parents (particularly moms, as research shows they make the bulk of the child-related decision making)?
  • Youth want a competitive edge. Among the youth I interviewed the number one reason they wanted to be involved was for the social aspect. However, the follow up reason was to gain some competitive edge (specifically mentioned often was an edge over other college applicants). Public speaking and networking (with peers and professionals) were also mentioned.
  • Teens want to spend time with other teens. Almost all of the youth I spoke with said that in their local clubs they were often used as mentors to younger youth, but they didn’t feel they had enough time with just like-aged peers. What programs does your county offer just for teens?
  • Teens want to pursue their interests, not assigned interests. Many of the youth that I spoke with mentioned ill-matched project work (either selected by their parents or club leader).
  • All of the 4-H’ers interviewed said they did not realized when they were in middle school how many more opportunities would be offered to them as a senior (i.e. Legislature, University, etc.). Do the intermediate age 4-H’ers in your program know what is ahead? 4-H Intermediate State is a great opportunity for them to begin learning.

It’ll be interesting to see what the finished research demonstrates, but so far it makes a whole lot of sense. What are your thoughts?  How do we work to retain intermediate 4-H’ers?  What has worked for you?

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