Cover: Benchmarks for Success

Benchmarks for Success

Expected Short- and Long-Term Outcomes of National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Participants

Published Dec 10, 2020

by Kathryn A. Edwards


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Research Questions

  1. What is a reasonable comparison group in the general population for ChalleNGe cadets?
  2. How do cadets at ChalleNGe sites compare to the average high school dropout?
  3. What are the expected postprogram outcomes for ChalleNGe cadets?
  4. How can site directors understand unique challenges or obstacles faced by their sites' cadets so as to form realistic plans and expectations for participants' future outcomes?

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program is a residential, quasi-military program for youths ages 16 to 18 who are experiencing difficulty in traditional high school.

The objective of this research was to provide sites with a set of population benchmarks of individual outcomes with which to compare their cadets. The author develops these benchmarks using data from large public datasets and examining individuals who were similar to cadets. Rather than establish a control group and follow members over time, as is done in a randomized controlled trial, she instead devised a set of population averages that site directors can use as a reasonable comparison to their ChalleNGe participants at any time. The population averages are based on the outcomes of high school dropouts, high school dropouts who earned high school–equivalent credentials, and high school graduates who did not attend two- or four-year colleges. These groups represent the spectrum of selection from which cadets are pulled. The analysis compares these three groups around the time dropouts typically leave school and in the years following. Comparisons at these points can be thought of as at enrollment in ChalleNGe (the preprogram period) and after ChalleNGe is completed (the postprogram period), respectively.

Site directors can use this report to compare their cadets to the typical teen who left high school without graduating and use key differences to help tailor their sites.

Key Findings

As teenagers, holders of high school–equivalent credentials (General Educational Development, or GED) had similar family backgrounds to dropouts, similar academic performance to high school graduates—but riskier behavior outside of school than either

  • Cadets likely come from risky family situations, but their academic aptitude and behavior can vary widely.

More than half of dropouts obtained a GED by their late 20s, but the most common ages of attainment were 17 to 20 years old. Enrollment in any postsecondary education and vocational training was low

  • Cadets who obtained a GED during the program were, on average, younger than most GED holders.

The biggest difference between the three groups was labor force participation; conditional on being employed, the three groups had similar wages, hours, and industries

  • While placing cadets in employment is a good goal, an additional aim should be to help cadets learn to search for work and not get discouraged.

Self-reported arrest rates were highest among dropouts but were not zero among graduates

  • Reasonable expectations from the population suggest that criminal behavior can be reduced but not eliminated.

The benchmark groups have similar rates of obesity, underweight, marriage, divorce, and independent living throughout their 20s

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), which operates the National Defense Research Institute (NDRI).

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