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The National Guard Youth Challenge (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 2022–2023 program year and is the eighth in a series of annual reports that RAND researchers have issued over the course of three research projects. The previous National Guard Youth ChalleNGe annual reports cover program years 2015–2016 through 2021–2022.

Each annual report documents the progress of participants who entered ChalleNGe during a specific program year and then completed the program. This report includes information on participants who entered the ChalleNGe program in 2022, as well as some follow-up information on those who entered the program in 2021.

This report draws primarily on quantitative program- and site-level data but also on the authors' analyses of the literature, quantitative data describing the civilian labor market, and conversations with program staff. Caveats to be considered include some documented inconsistencies in reported data across sites.

This report will be of interest to ChalleNGe program staff, personnel providing oversight for the program, and policymakers and researchers concerned with designing effective youth program initiatives.

Key Findings

  • The ChalleNGe program continues to recover from the disruptions caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. By the end of 2022, activities and many outcomes at most sites closely resembled those of the pre-pandemic period. The overall number of participants remained lower than participant numbers prior to the pandemic, but it continues to increase.
  • Class performance levels in 2022 resemble pre-pandemic levels on many measures. Among those who participated in ChalleNGe in 2022, standardized test scores increased substantially and levels of physical fitness improved over the course of the program. The vast majority of eligible cadets registered to vote and for Selective Service. Cadets performed community service at higher levels in 2022 than in the previous years.
  • Staff turnover at ChalleNGe sites remains relatively high, and program staff frequently report hiring difficulties (especially for cadre and instructors). Hiring cadre and instructors continues to be most difficult in areas where starting pay is relatively low.
  • Across the board, ChalleNGe sites' sleep schedules typically do not allow enough rest time to meet American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines to support adolescent development.

Recommendations

  • ChalleNGe sites should continue to track staff turnover and local wages, as well as staff satisfaction and working conditions. ChalleNGe sites continue to report substantial difficulties in hiring, and the turnover rate of staff remains relatively high. The sites have made efforts to increase starting salaries, especially for positions that cause hiring challenges. But wages in alternative occupations also increased substantially over the past year. Therefore, ChalleNGe sites should continue to focus on this issue. Given the strong relationship between staff turnover and youth outcomes in other settings, sites should continue to work to lower staff turnover.
  • ChalleNGe sites should modify cadet sleep schedules to improve program outcomes. Sleep is especially critical for adolescents. A broad array of recent research makes a strong and substantive case for sleep as a key adolescent support mechanism. Adolescents who do not obtain sufficient sleep are more likely than others to experience negative outcomes, including anxiety and stress, aggressive behaviors, and issues with learning, memory, and attention. With one exception, ChalleNGe sites' sleep schedules are not consistent with research-based recommendations. Modifying sleep schedules has the potential to help cadets (and, thus, the ChalleNGe program) achieve better outcomes.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program 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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