Staying on Course
Three-Year Results of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Evaluation
High school dropouts face an uphill battle in a labor market that increasingly rewards skills and postsecondary credentials: they are more likely than their peers to need public assistance, be arrested or incarcerated, and less likely to marry. This report presents results from a rigorous evaluation of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, an intensive residential program that aims to “reclaim the lives of at-risk youth” who have dropped out. More than 100,000 young people have completed the program since it was launched in the early 1990s. MDRC is conducting the evaluation in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. The 17-month ChalleNGe program is divided into three phases: Pre-ChalleNGe, a two-week orientation and assessment period; a 20-week Residential Phase; and a one-year Postresidential Phase featuring a mentoring program. During the first two phases, participants live at the program site, often on a military base. The environment is “quasi-military,” though there are no requirements for military service. The evaluation uses a random assignment design. Because there were more qualified applicants than slots, a lottery-like process was used to decide which applicants were admitted to the program. Those who were admitted (the program group) are being compared over time with those who were not admitted (the control group); any significant differences that emerge between the groups can be attributed to ChalleNGe. About 3,000 young people entered the study in 10 ChalleNGe programs in 2005-2006.
A comprehensive survey was administered to about 1,200 young people in the program and control groups an average of three years after they entered the study, when they were about 20 years old, on average. Key findings from the survey include:
- Members of the program group were much more likely than those in the control group to have obtained a General Educational Development (GED) certificate or a high school diploma and to have earned college credits.
- Members of the program group were more likely to be employed at the time of the survey, and they earned about 20 percent more than their control group counterparts in the year before the survey.
- There were few statistically significant differences between groups on measures of crime, delinquency, health, or lifestyle outcomes.
These results are impressive; few programs for dropouts have produced sustained positive impacts. And yet, both the survey and a series of in-depth telephone interviews with ChalleNGe graduates suggest that many young people struggled to maintain momentum after leaving the residential program and returning home, where they had relatively few supports and also faced unusually challenging labor market conditions. ChalleNGe may want to experiment with ways to bolster its postresidential services to provide more support during this difficult transition.