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Research Questions

  1. What metrics have been developed to measure cadets' outcomes?
  2. How many participants entered ChalleNGe? How many graduated?
  3. How do academic and physical fitness measures change over the course of the program?
  4. What additional benchmarks can be developed to help capture more information about the differences between individual sites?

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program is a residential, quasi-military program for young people ages 16–18 who are experiencing difficulty in traditional high school. The program is operated by participating states through their state National Guard organizations with supporting federal funds and oversight. The first ChalleNGe sites began in the mid-1990s; today there are 40 ChalleNGe sites in 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. To date, nearly 155,000 young people have completed the ChalleNGe program.

This report is the second in a series supporting ChalleNGe's reporting requirement to Congress. RAND researchers' analyses of ChalleNGe began in September 2016; ongoing efforts will continue through June 2020. We will produce two more reports in the coming years. This report presents information on recent National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program participants (those who entered ChalleNGe during 2016). This report also documents progress toward the second main goal of the project: to develop longer-term metrics to measure the effectiveness of the program and to determine how site-level differences influence effectiveness. These metrics will make it possible to determine how well the ChalleNGe program is doing in meeting its mission, "to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16–18-year-old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens."

Key Findings


  • To date, about 155,000 young people have completed ChalleNGe.
  • More than 12,000 young people enrolled in ChalleNGe programs that began during 2016; nearly 9,000 young people graduated from ChalleNGe.
  • ChalleNGe graduates show evidence of substantial gains in multiple areas, including academic subjects and physical fitness.
  • ChalleNGe cadets performed more than 500,000 hours of community service in 2016.
  • Collection of consistent data over time indicates that the number of participants and the number of graduates increased in the most recent class.
  • Several additional research efforts are under way; the goals of these efforts are to learn more about specific aspects of ChalleNGe and to develop recommendations for ChalleNGe based on the existing literature in specific areas (such as job training, mentoring, and community service).
  • A key aspect of our research is developing benchmarks — measures of expected outcomes among young people who were eligible for ChalleNGe but did not attend the program. Without such benchmarks, discerning the meaning of a longer-term measure of cadet progress will be difficult.


  • Although the process of developing the final metrics is still ongoing, based on current analyses and the variation across sites, we expect that there will not be a single final preferred education credential that each site is required to provide.
  • Researchers expect to develop a framework that will allow sites to determine the extent to which the training, education, and other skills they offer result in graduates with skills that are required for success in their local labor markets.


  • Researchers expect to emphasize the extent to which sites are able to award meaningful credentials to most or all graduates. Such credentials could vary by region, but would be expected to place graduates in a position to obtain better long-term outcomes than young people who left high school but did not attend ChalleNGe. Future reports will document these continued efforts.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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