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Research Questions

  1. What are the promising practices from the literature that could inform National Guard Youth ChalleNGe CTE implementation?
  2. To what extent do ChalleNGe cadets engage in CTE, and how do participation and offerings compare with other programs that serve at-risk youth?
  3. What are examples of promising practices in CTE provision across ChalleNGe sites, and what approaches have they taken to address implementation challenges?

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. The authors examined a specific aspect of this program: the provision of career and technical education (CTE) opportunities for program participants. The report relies on administrative data collected from all programs pertaining to their operations in 2017 and 2018, as well as interviews with select program staff in 2019. In this report, the authors highlight promising practices in CTE provision found in the literature. They looked at data reported from ChalleNGe sites during 2017 and 2018 on cadet participation in CTE and compared them with information from another program that serves at-risk youth. They also examined the extent to which promising practices in CTE are found in a handful of ChalleNGe sites. Methods used in this study include a document review; descriptive analysis of the administrative data that the RAND Corporation research team collected from all ChalleNGe sites on enrollment, completion, credits earned, certificates and other credentials earned, and other program-level information; and phone calls with staff from a handful of ChalleNGe sites implementing CTE. Based on their findings, the authors discuss implications and future considerations as more ChalleNGe sites consider introducing CTE into their programming and as more states consider establishing Job ChalleNGe, which provides postsecondary education and training to ChalleNGe graduates.

Key Findings

  • Around 15 percent of ChalleNGe cadets were reported to have earned any CTE credits, and among sites where cadets earned CTE credits, most earned two or more credits.
  • Comparing ChalleNGe CTE offerings to Job Corps offerings suggests that ChalleNGe sites commonly offer courses in hospitality and manufacturing compared with the more commonly offered courses in construction and health care across Job Corps centers.
  • ChalleNGe program sites value CTE but struggle with scheduling and time constraints.
  • Among the handful of sites interviewed to examine CTE implementation, dual enrollment was leveraged to allow cadets to take courses in postsecondary education institutions, but this was often limited to cadets enrolled in credit recovery or high school diploma programs and was sometimes constrained by logistical and transportation considerations.
  • Work-based learning, a promising practice in CTE research, was not a common feature of CTE provision across ChalleNGe programs.
  • Among the handful of programs interviewed, most indicated that they preferred to provide CTE on their own campus, but they generally struggled with the facilities, equipment, and staffing requirements that would allow them to do so.
  • Program sites with Job ChalleNGe (a postresidential program in which ChalleNGe graduates can acquire job-ready skills by taking occupationally based courses that provide the foundation and preparation for industry-based certification, a college degree, and job placement) in their state face both challenges and opportunities related to linking their CTE programming with Job ChalleNGe offerings.


  • ChalleNGe sites that are looking to expand existing offerings or newly provide them should consider the time required to offer a quality CTE course, cadet preferences, and the availability of providers to offer the CTE course.
  • ChalleNGe programs should couple cadet choices of CTE career fields and courses with robust career counseling and advising.
  • ChalleNGe programs should look to build relationships with local business and industry and appoint a staff member whose responsibility it is to develop and maintain relationships that could lead to meaningful work-based learning opportunities for cadets.
  • ChalleNGe programs could choose one course to pilot integrating academic and occupational curriculum content in partnership with a local community college.
  • Although online learning might not be a viable long-term solution due to the value of hands-on, practical experience provided by CTE, recent developments in online offerings, particularly in response to COVID-19 restrictions, could offer some opportunities to utilize this approach under certain circumstances.
  • ChalleNGe sites should leverage state and local resources, particularly with the 2018 passing of Perkins V.
  • States considering adding Job ChalleNGe should seek to align CTE course offerings during ChalleNGe with future Job ChalleNGe offerings in an effort to design CTE that provides cadets with a viable pathway to further their education and employment prospects.

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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