Enrollment in US youth development programs is decreasing annually. Research has shown that youth in the 4-H youth development program experience a broad range of positive youth development outcomes, including greater community contributions, healthier choices, higher academic competence, critical life and leadership skills such as problem-solving, goal setting, communication, responsibility, and a sense of belonging and purpose. Finding ways to retain youth in the program for more than a year or two can profoundly impact society due to the skills developed and opportunities provided to youth in 4-H. The purpose of this study was to understand why youth might leave the 4-H program after one year of involvement. Using data from a multiyear, multistate study of first-year 4-H members, we examined why youth might leave the program and what first-year experiences correlate with youth dropout. Quantitative and qualitative survey data suggest that youth leave the program because of challenges related to belonging, welcoming, time, communication, interactions with adults, and overall organization. These findings can provide youth development faculty, programming staff, and volunteers with directions for improving the program to retain more youth.



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