National Guard Program for High School Dropouts Increases  GED and High School Completion and Boosts Earnings, Study Shows  

(Washington, June 21, 2011)

— A new report shows that the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program, a “quasi‐military” residential program for high school dropouts, raises educational attainment and boosts earnings. The report was released today by MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and social policy research organization. Based on an independent multi‐year study, the report shows that the ChalleNGe program is making progress on a seemingly intractable problem: the poor academic and labor market prospects of young people who don’t graduate from high school.

Using a random assignment design (the “gold standard” of program evaluation), the study shows that, three years after entering ChalleNGe, program participants are more likely to have obtained a GED or high school diploma, are more likely to have earned college credits, are more likely to be working, and have substantially higher earnings than their control group counterparts.

“These results from ChalleNGe are quite encouraging because very few ‘second chance’ programs for high school dropouts have produced lasting improvements for participants,” said MDRC’s Dan Bloom, director of the study.

The report was released at an event held by the American Youth Policy Forum and The Future of Children, “Transitions to Adulthood: Roundtable on Practice and Policy,” in Washington, DC.

What Is the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program?

Participants in National Guard Youth ChalleNGe engage in a five‐month, intensive residential program, often on National Guard bases, followed by a year‐long mentoring phase in their home communities. The quasi‐military program builds on a positive youth development model and includes a wide array of activities designed to strengthen young people’s preparedness for work and adult responsibilities, including getting a high school diploma or obtaining a GED. Created in the early 1990s, more than 100,000 youth have participated in the program. There are currently 34 programs in 29 states and Puerto Rico. MDRC’s evaluation includes 10 of these programs.

Who Is Served by National Guard Youth ChalleNGe?  

National Guard Youth ChalleNGe is open to young people between the ages of 16 and 18 who have dropped out of (or been expelled from) school, are unemployed, drug‐free, and not heavily involved with the justice system. The program is open to both males and females, although about 80 percent of the participants are male.

More Detail on the Findings

The study’s key findings after three years of follow‐up are:

  • ChalleNGe participants were much more likely than the control group to have obtained a GED or high school diploma (72 percent vs. 56 percent) and to have earned college credits (35 percent vs. 19 percent).


  • ChalleNGe participants were more likely to be employed (58 percent vs. 51 percent), and they earned about 20 percent more (about $2,270) in the prior year than their control group counterparts.


  • ChalleNGe participants were no more likely to be serving in the military than members of the control group (about 7‐8 percent of both groups reported being in the military).

About the Study

The study was conducted by MDRC in partnership with the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood. It was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the MCJ Foundation, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

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Headquartered in New York City, with a regional office in Oakland, CA, MDRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization with more than 35 years of experience designing and evaluating education and social policy initiatives.     

Visit the Studies Website here