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Research Questions

  1. How many young people participate in and complete the ChalleNGe program?
  2. What credentials and test scores do they achieve, and what levels of participation do they achieve in community service?
  3. Do they register to vote and for Selective Service?
  4. What are the levels of participation, staffing, and funding at the various ChalleNGe sites?
  5. Where do ChalleNGe graduates find placement after the program?
  6. Is the program effective, and is there variation in effectiveness across sites?

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program is a residential, quasi-military program for youth ages 16 to 18 who are experiencing difficulty in traditional high school. This report covers the program years 2018–2019 and is the fourth in a series of annual reports that RAND Corporation researchers have issued over the course of a research project spanning September 2016 to June 2020. Each annual report documents the progress of participants who entered ChalleNGe during specific program years and then completed the program. A focus of the ongoing analysis of the ChalleNGe program is collecting data in a consistent manner. Based on these data, each report also includes a trend analysis. In this report, researchers provide information in support of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program's required annual report to Congress. In addition to information on participants who entered the ChalleNGe program and completed it in 2018, the authors include follow-up information on those who entered the program and completed it in 2017. Finally, they describe and provide syntheses of other ongoing research efforts to support the ChalleNGe program. Methods used in this study include site visits, collection and analyses of quantitative and qualitative data, literature reviews, and development of tools to assist in improving all program metrics — for example, a program logic model. Caveats to be considered include some documented inconsistencies in reported data across sites, a focus on those who completed the program and not on all participants, and the short-run nature of many of the metrics reported.

Key Findings

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

  • There is considerable site-level variation in program operations and activities.
  • ChalleNGe programs took in fewer participants in 2018 compared with 2017, though the graduation rate remained similar.
  • In general, cadets show progress on the TABE over the course of their participation in ChalleNGe; however, the introduction of the new TABE 11/12 has presented new challenges in terms of assessing cadet academic progress.
  • Roughly 25 percent of incoming cadets do not complete ChalleNGe. This raises some concerns about program retention. Further analyses could reveal more about the reasons for separations, and could have implications for policies and programming.

ChalleNGe programs experience high staff turnover especially at the cadre position

  • Though there are many reasons for staff turnover, programs that pay lower starting salaries for staff tend to exhibit higher rates of turnover.
  • ChalleNGe sites concerned with staff turnover should examine all aspects of the work environment, including compensation.

Site visits identified two areas for analytic focus — integrating CTE into ChalleNGe programmatic offerings for cadets and developing training to strengthen mentor-mentee engagement

  • ChalleNGe sites face difficulties integrating robust CTE experiences; reasons include a compressed schedule, difficult logistical circumstances, and lack of staff and financial resources. However, some programs have found ways to provide those experiences for their cadets.
  • RAND worked with a ChalleNGe site to pilot a mentor training program; mentors found the training to be helpful.

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 Security Research Division (NSRD).

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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