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, on behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 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 and 2006.