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Research Questions

  1. How have cadets progressed in the ChalleNGe program in 2019 and 2020?
  2. How is implementation of the Job ChalleNGe program proceeding?
  3. How can ChalleNGe sites improve results for cadets?

The National Guard Youth Challenge (ChalleNGe) program serves young people who are experiencing difficulty in traditional high school through a quasi-military, 5.5-month residential program. The RAND Corporation's ongoing analyses of the ChalleNGe program are designed to meet multiple objectives. The first is to gather and analyze existing data from each ChalleNGe site to support the program's yearly report to Congress. To that end, the authors of this report document the progress of program participants (or "cadets") in 2019 and 2020.

Participation in the ChalleNGe program remains strong; nearly 13,000 young people entered the ChalleNGe program during 2019, and over 9,500 of those graduated. Among graduates, the vast majority left the program with a recognized credential or with credits toward high school graduation.

ChalleNGe is a well-established program with sites in the majority of states, but given the relatively short duration of the residential portion, the program provides limited career and technical training. In recent years, Job ChalleNGe programs have been established at six sites. Job ChalleNGe builds on the ChalleNGe model by providing additional training to ChalleNGe graduates. Job ChalleNGe provides this training through a 5.5-month residential program that focuses on developing career and technical skills.

The authors of this report provide initial implementation findings in this document and include a summary of planned future analyses to support ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe. Additionally, the authors examine some of the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic on both programs.

Key Findings

Participation in the ChalleNGe program remains strong

  • 2019 class performance on outcome measures is similar to earlier cohorts. Among 2019 entrants, more than 9,500 young people completed ChalleNGe; of those, over 70 percent received an education credential.
  • Applicants and entrants to the program trended up slightly.
  • Testing changes complicate cohort and site comparisons. Some sites have begun using the newer version of the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) while some continue to use the older version; scores differ across versions.
  • Graduation rates vary across sites and appear to be influenced by site-level factors. Some variation can be tied to local- or state-level factors, but some is related to site-level factors. Graduation rates are higher at larger sites, at sites that provide cadets with home passes, at sites that cadets are able to visit before entering the program, and at sites with lower staff turnover.
  • Many of the sites experienced some level of disruption during the data collection period because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors expect that the pandemic may have multiple effects over the next few classes.

The success of the Job ChalleNGe program in providing additional training and skills to ChalleNGe graduates depends on the efficacy of the program's design and its implementation across sites

  • Program offerings for Job ChalleNGe are based on high-demand local occupations.
  • The Job ChalleNGe program experience differs both within and across sites.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted operations in the spring of 2020, resulting in varied responses and changes across sites.


  • ChalleNGe sites should adopt site-level policies and practices focused on improving graduation rates. Policies with the potential to improve graduation rates include changes to the kinds of credentials offered, the size of a site's program, staff compensation levels, and the opportunities for applicants to visit the site prior to enrollment and for participants to spend short periods at home during the residential phase.
  • ChalleNGe sites should all adopt the newest version of the TABE and examine any requirements based on specific TABE scores. Some sites continue to use the older version of the TABE; scores between the two are not comparable. Sites should also reexamine any requirements that might be based on attainment of a specific TABE score; such requirements will need adjusting to the new TABE score.
  • The ChalleNGe program should adopt long-term measures of graduate success; to determine the program's overall success at meeting its mission, sites should collect data on long-term success.
  • Job ChalleNGe should evolve its model using best practices from technical education and youth programming.
  • The authors recommend piloting a program with a partner institution to schedule courses in a manner that better aligns with the Job ChalleNGe schedule. Because curricula are usually designed by partners in individual programs, there is a lot of variation, and participants complete different training pipelines at different times, resulting in less consistency than in the ChalleNGe program itself.

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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