Making the Transition

Interim Results of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Evaluation

By Megan Millenky, Dan Bloom, Colleen Dillon

Young people who drop out of high school face long odds of success in a labor market that in-creasingly values education and skills. This report presents interim results from a rigorous, ongoing evaluation of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which aims to “reclaim the lives of at-risk youth” who have dropped out of high school. ChalleNGe is an intensive residential program that currently operates in more than half the states. More than 90,000 young people have completed the program since it was launched in the early 1990s. MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization, is conducting the evaluation in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. Several private foundations and the U.S. Department of Defense are funding the evaluation.

The 17-month ChalleNGe program is divided into three phases: Pre-ChalleNGe, a demanding two-week orientation and assessment period; a 20-week Residential Phase built around eight core components designed to promote positive youth development; and a one-year Postresidential Phase featuring a structured 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. The young people 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.

Interim Results

A comprehensive survey was administered to about 1,200 young people in the program and control groups an average of 21 months after they entered the study. Key findings from the survey include:

  • The program group was much more likely than the control group to have obtained a high school diploma or a General Educational Development certificate (GED) and to have earned college credits. For example, about 61 percent of the program group had earned a diploma or a GED, compared with 36 percent of the control group.

  • At the time of the survey, program group members were somewhat more likely to be engaged in productive activities. For example, 72 percent of the program group were working, in school or training, or in the military, compared with 66 percent of the control group.

  • Young people in the two groups were equally likely to have been arrested in the year prior to the survey, but the program group was less likely to have been convicted of a crime or to have engaged in certain delinquent acts.

  • There were few differences between groups in measures of physical or mental health. Differences between groups that were measured at an earlier point in the study had disappeared by the 21-month point.

These interim results are impressive, but longer-term follow-up will be critical to understanding the full story of the program’s effects. Results from a 36-month survey should be available by late 2010. 

NOTE: A corrected version of this report was posted on October 25, 2010. As originally posted, in Table 14 (Selected Impacts by Academic Performance) on page 38, there was an error in the reporting of the percentage of the sample that attained mostly Ds and Fs and the percentage that attained mostly better than Ds and Fs. A revised table has been posted. The text in the last paragraph of page 36 was also corrected to reflect the revisions in the table.

Millenky, Megan, Dan Bloom, and Colleen Dillon. 2010. Making the Transition. New York: MDRC.