Before looking at troop-level variables, let us get a sense of the nature of the beast, so to speak, by looking at the membership composition of the Scout troops. I will examine the number of years the Scouts have been in the Scout section and the badge level obtained.
Troops in the sample had a total current membership of 164 Scouts (see Table 3.1). The frequency distribution has an interesting shape. For analytical purposes, Scouts who have been in for zero years (N=4) will be ignored. These Scouts are ones who had leaped up from Cubs within the past few weeks. Scouts who have been in for four years (N=19) and five years (N=1) will also be ignored. Many Scouts move to Venturers at this age, so the numbers will not count all who have been in Scouts for that length of time. (While Beavers and Cubs are generally conceived as three-year programs, Scouts is seen as either three or four years. The Scout and Venturer age ranges overlap by one year. I do not have any information about Venturer Company membership.)
The frequency distribution shows an odd pattern with a clear mode in first year, a large drop to second, then an increase to the third year. To attempt to explain this pattern, we will look at how retention rates vary by the seniority of the Scouts. In Table 3.2, we see that 60% of first year Scouts were retained while 84% of senior Scouts (all other years) were retained. In other words, Scouts who have returned to Scouts once are much more likely to return again.
The low rate of retention of Scouts between first and second year explains the drop seen in Table 3.1. Why the increase in year 3? We must keep in mind that the population of Cubs is constantly declining (see Table 1.1), and therefore the number of Cubs leaping up to Scouts is also declining (nearly three-quarters of new Scouts come from Cubs; see Appendix B.2). The current third-year Scouts would have come up from Cubs in a larger cohort than did the second-year Scouts. Since 84% or so of them would have been retained when moving from second to third year, this cohort remains larger then the second year cohort. It is smaller then the first year cohort because of the large drop in membership between first and second year. A longitudinal survey could get a better fix on these trends. Suffice it to say that many young people try Scouts for one year and don't return for more. For every two Scouts who join, only one will make it to third year.
Let us look at how number of years in Scouts affects the chances that a Scout will continue to Venturers. In all, 14 of 31 Scouts of Venturer age (45%) continued to Venturers. Seven were of Venturer age not having been in Scouts at least three years (see Table 3.3). (The number in the Year in Scouts column is their year number assuming they were still in Scouts. So someone who was in Scouts for three years then moved to Venturers will have a four in that column.) We see in Table 3.3 that 69% of Scouts who had been in for three years were retained through to Venturers. Of young people who stayed in Scouts for an extra year, only 27% made it to Venturers.
This difference can easily be accounted for. Fourth-year Scouts are usually in Grade 9 and 14 years old. They have little in common with the Grade 6 eleven year-olds who would be the first year Scouts. This, combined with a possibly repetitive program, may have caused these older Scouts to become bored and dissatisfied with the program. Because of this dissatisfaction with Scouting, they were less willing to give Venturers a try. The policy implications of this are that Scouts should be encouraged to move to Venturers after three years in Scouts, not after four. This finding fits with the World Scout Bureau's recommendations on the age ranged of Scout programs (WOSM 1998:30; 1997a:23).
It is possible, of course, that most Venturers only stay in that program for one year. This would mean that moving a Scout to Venturers after three years rather than four would have no impact on the total amount of time that that young person would spend in Scouting. However, this seems unlikely to me. For this to be true, the retention rate in Venturers would have to be much lower than in Scouts. It seems to me that the greatest loss of members happens between sections. More research on Scout-Venturer linking could resolve this question.
Having said all this about the troops as a whole, individual troops tend to display modal clustering of members in one or two year levels. For example, a troop may have lots of second year Scouts, but few in other years. I suspect that this is the result of variable numbers of new Scout leaping up from Cubs. A longitudinal study could find out if this is the case.
So far, we have found that Scouts who have returned once are more likely to return for another year than Scouts who have not. Is there something we can do to increase the likelihood that Scouts will return, particularly if they are first year Scouts? Let us look at the effect of badge achievement. A Scout can be at one of five badge levels. The first level is uninvested. Scouts are normally formally invested into troop membership shortly after they join. Upon investiture, they become Pioneer Scouts. By earning a number of badges, Scouts can advance to become Voyageur Scouts, Pathfinder Scouts, and then achieve the Chief Scout's Award. The distribution of badge levels appears in Appendix B.3.
Table 3.4 lays out the relationship between retention and badge level. Scouts who have achieved a higher badge level have much higher levels of retention. This result is probably polluted by the fact that the measure of badge level is the Scouts' current badge level. Scouts who did not return would not have the option of advancing in their badges. However, each level above Pioneer Scout should be obtainable in one year. A longitudinal study could investigate this point more fully. For now, we can get some confirmation by looking at the relationship between badge level and retention to Venturers. Venturers cannot work on Scout badges with the exception of a final three months of work on the Chief Scout's Award (Scouts Canada 1998:100).
Scouts who have earned a higher badge level are more likely to move to Venturers (see Table 3.5). Twelve out of 13 (92.3%) Pioneer Scouts did not move to Venturers while only four out of 17 (23.5%) Scouts who had earned higher levels failed to make the jump. This suggests that advanced badge levels would help with Scout retention as well, lending support to the finding above.
We have examined the effect of both seniority and badge level on retention. The picture gets more interesting when these two variables are combined. Table 3.6 combines these variables. No first year Scout had obtained either Pathfinder or Chief Scout's Award, which is not surprising since this is essentially impossible. We will restrict the analysis therefore to Pioneer and Voyageur Scouts. For senior Scouts, Voyageurs have a slightly better retention rate than Pioneers (85.0% instead of 81.5%). For junior Scouts, however, the difference is substantial: 57.1% of Pioneer Scouts retained compared to 84.6% of Voyageur Scouts. The Voyageur Scout level is comparable to that of senior Scouts.
Putting these findings together, it seems that Scouts which are either senior by year or advanced in badges have high levels of retention. First year Scouts who do not earn their Voyageur are much less likely to continue with Scouting. This suggests that Scouts in general are attracted by earning badges. Badges, it seems likely, reinforced their connection and therefore their commitment to the group. In order to earn the badges, the Scouts must get fully involved in the program, leading to higher levels of satisfaction and a desire to return. For some Scouts, however, badges are much less important, so they stay in Scouts regardless of not having advanced badge levels. Since the badges are less important to them, their retention rate remains relatively high once they are senior Scouts.
I noted above that troop membership tends to have modal clustering by year. This clustering is even more pronounced by badge level. In nine out of 16 troops, at least half the members were Pioneer Scouts. In five troops, more then three-quarters were Pioneers (see Appendix B.3). If Scouts who are at a non-modal badge level in their troop are less likely to return, this would create an amplification effect which would tend to make modes more distinct.
To test this, the retention rates of Scouts on the modal badge level for their troop was compared to the rate for those off the modal badge level. Troops without a clear mode were excluded. The level of retention is the same for both groups (see Table 3.7).
The findings above, particularly the large number of Pioneer Scouts in sample troops, suggests that badge work is far from a priority in many troops, despite being important both educationally and for the retention of members. To boost membership retention, Scouts should be encouraged and given every opportunity to advance in the badge system. Scouters should make badges an important part of the program. A good place to start would be with the Scouter training courses. I recall from my Woodbadge training that I was taught that badge work is of limited importance, that some troops are not badge-oriented, and that this situation is normal and acceptable.
I have discussed above the effects of years in Scouts and badge level on retention to Venturers. One further finding deserves note. Eleven of the troops had Scouts who could have or did move to Venturers. In five of these troop, none continued to Venturers. In four, they all were. In the other two, about two-thirds were. So, while the overall rate of retention to Venturers was 45%, in practice, troops tend to link to Venturers either none or most if not all Venturers-aged Scouts. A study which looks specifically at linking could isolate in more detail the variables at work here.
The average troop in the sample had 11.1 members. Troops ranged in size from two to 26 (see Appendix B.4). I was unable to isolate the effect of troop size on retention, if any. Retention does correlate with troop size, but certainly low retention will lead to a smaller troop. However, there are reasons to be concerned about small troops (see the Discussion section).