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Research Questions

  1. What are the best ways for ChalleNGe sites to track their progress and implement program improvements?
  2. What additional benchmarks can be developed to help capture more information about the differences between individual sites?
  3. How do the achievements of ChalleNGe graduates compare with similar youth who do not participate in the program?
  4. What are the biggest challenges facing program staff, and how can those challenges be overcome?

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program is a residential, quasi-military program for youth ages 16–18 who are experiencing difficulty in traditional high school. Participating states operate the program, which began in the mid-1990s, with supporting federal funds and oversight from state National Guard organizations.

RAND's ongoing analysis of the ChalleNGe program has two primary objectives. The first is to gather and analyze existing data from each ChalleNGe site on an annual basis to support the program's yearly report to Congress. This RAND report, the third in a series of four annual reports, documents the progress of program participants (or "cadets") in 2017–2018. The second objective of this project is to identify longer-term metrics for the overall effectiveness of the program, including ones that will help determine how site-level differences influence program effectiveness.

In addition to preparing this year's annual report, the RAND study team also undertook several analytic efforts that address components of the ChalleNGe program. These additional analytic efforts are intended to address gaps in data collection, particularly around long-term outcomes, and better understand program design and implementation issues (for instance, how to improve the mentoring component). This report includes a review of a few of the analytic efforts the study team developed over the past year in support of the ChalleNGe program, including a benchmarking analysis aimed at developing realistic goals and expectations for ChalleNGe participants.

Key Findings

Cadets across the ChalleNGe program continue to make progress in many areas

  • The number of ChalleNGe participants increased slightly from 2015–2017, as did the number of graduates; the graduation rate remained roughly constant.
  • The proportion of cadets scoring at or above the ninth-grade level on the Tests of Adult Basic Education remained roughly constant.
  • The classes of cadets who entered the program in 2017 produced nearly 10,000 ChalleNGe graduates.
  • Around 64 percent of graduates received at least one academic credential.
  • As a group, these graduates performed more than $14 million worth of service to their communities.
  • Programs face an ongoing challenge in promoting robust and enduring relationships between mentors and cadet mentees. Site visits and data collected reveal that mentor and mentee interaction typically drops off significantly within a few months and is particularly difficult to maintain after cadets have completed the program.
  • Efforts to improve the mentoring program could include more training for mentors, while better tracking of mentor and mentee interactions could shed light on the relationship between mentoring and key youth outcomes of interest.

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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