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June 20, 2003
article by Dave Rice

For the third straight year youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America¹s traditional programs shows a decline. The drop is most marked in Cub Scouting, the program for seven-to-ten year olds, which is down 8.3% for the three-year period. Later membership depends on Cub Scout transfers to Boy Scouting, which is down 1.7%. The losses are only somewhat mitigated by the rapid increase in Venturing, the new program for girls and boys 14 to 18 years old, up 55.6% over three years. Total
membership in traditional programs was down 2.5%, 1999-2002.

At the end of 2001 (as for 2002) the BSA trumpeted that it had exceeded five million members for the first time, but only by counting Learning for Life, its wholly-owned subsidiary in-school program.

Is the Boy Scouts of America growing as it claims? How does the Boy Scouts of America figure its membership statistics? Why does it nearly always publish glowing reports on increasing membership, when the almost level figures actually show minute gains or actual losses? Why is Learning for Life included for some purposes and excluded for others?

There are many devices used by the BSA and its 260 local councils to show membership gains. Meeting membership goals is one of the prime measures of a council¹s and its professional staff¹s effectiveness.

Councils can decide that all Scout units will have December charter renewals. All youth who have joined during a year are counted as registered members until the end of charter, even if they have dropped out or moved. This makes the December membership figures as large as possible, with typically the lowest number of members in January.

When all Scout units renew in December the council can quickly process all unit charter applications showing increases in membership, and hold all unit applications showing losses until January, thereby inflating the December 31 figure and postponing losses into the new year.

Many councils have a ³no-dropped-unit² policy, ostensibly meaning that units will receive council service to bring about their longevity. In fact it means that local professional Scout officials are under great pressure to reregister units which in fact have ceased to meet or which never existed. Disputed membership reports in the Circle Ten Council, Dallas Texas, including non-existent Scout units, are now before a federal grand jury.

It is possible to sign up school clubs and activities so they can take advantage of the BSA¹s favorable liability insurance policy. Such groups register as Venturer Crews or Learning for Life Explorer posts while making no pretense of running a Scouting program, yet they have been counted in the membership totals.

When Learning for Life was established as a wholly-owned subsidiary, operating mainly in schools, it gave the BSA the opportunity to count LFL participants in inflating its membership figures. Until LFL was started, only members in the BSA¹s traditional programs, Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, Venturing, and Sea Scouting could be counted.

The membership figures for the BSA for the last six years are shown below, as reported in official Scouting literature. (Figures from before 1998 are not comparable with years afterward, because Exploring was divided between Venturing and Learning for Life in that year.)

1996: 3,517,817 total traditional Scouts (including Explorers)

1997: 3,341,562 total traditional Scouts (including Explorers)

1998: 2,171,987 Cub Scouts; 1,023,442 Boy Scouts; 188,010 Venturers; 3,383,439 total traditional Scouts

1999: 2,181,013 Cub Scouts, up 0.4%; 1,028,353 Boy Scouts, up 0.5%; 202,486 Venturers, up 7.7%; 3,411,852 total traditional members, up 0.8%

2000: 2,114,420 Cub Scouts, down 2.4%; 1,003,691 Boy Scouts, down 2.0%; 233,858 Venturers, up 15.7%; 3,351,969 total traditional members, down 1.2%. (With 1,589,988 Learning for Life participants; grand total 4,941,957 youth)

2001: 2,043,478 Cub Scouts, down 3.4%; 1,005,592 Boy Scouts, up 0.2%; 276,434 Venturers, up 18.8%, 3,325,504 total traditional members, down 0.8%. (With 1,697,701 Learning for Life participants; grand total 5,023,205 youth)

2002: 2,000,478 Cub Scouts, down 2.0%; 1,010,791 Boy Scouts, up 0.1%; 315,296 Venturers, up 14.1%; 3,326,565 total traditional members, up 0.0% (with 1,699,984 Learning for Life participants; grand total 5,026,549 youth)

Cumulative figures for 1999 to 2002: Cub Scouting down 8.3%, Boy Scouts down 1.7%, Venturing up 55.6%, total traditional members down 2.5%.

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