Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Van E. Cooley


For over one hundred years, the 4-H youth development program has educated millions of children across the country in a variety of programs; from livestock husbandry to leadership skills. Like all programs that have endured, 4-H has had to adjust its focus as society has changed. One area in the 4-H program that has not changed is the heavy reliance on adult volunteer leaders to deliver the educational programs to 4-H youth. Because of the reliance on volunteer 4-H leaders, 4-H professionals and extension office staff are concerned about issues of retention.

The case study examines two related issues: First, the study explores the factors that influence the retention of 4-H volunteer leaders in the St. Joseph County 4-H youth development program and, second, the study explores if the relationship between 4-H volunteer leaders and Extension office staff influences the decision of 4-H volunteer leaders to persist with the organization.

This study takes place in St. Joseph County, Michigan, through the Michigan State University Extension office. Four focus group interviews were conducted at the Michigan State University Extension office in Centreville, Michigan. The participants of the focus groups were former 4-H volunteer leaders current 4-H volunteer leaders. In-depth interviews with former leaders, current leaders, and the four previous 4-H youth development agents were conducted. 4-H youth development artifacts were examined and observational data was collected.

Themes and emerging themes were determined from the data to consider factors that led to the termination of service by 4-H volunteer leaders and to determine if there is a connection between extension staff and volunteer relationships and the turnover of 4-H volunteer leaders. Additionally, this study applies qualitative data to the Volunteer Process Model; a model that has traditionally been used with quantitative data only.

Four themes and one emerging theme materialized from the data. Practical applications, recommendations, and limitations of the study are also discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access