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Helping At-Risk Youth: Evaluation of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe Programs
Youth who are “disconnected” from school face profound challenges in an increasingly skills-based U.S. labor market. High school dropouts who are unemployed are at greater risk of long-term unemployment, welfare dependence, and involvement with the criminal justice system. The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program is a six-month residential program to improve the education, life skills, and employment potential of high school dropouts. Upon completing the residential phase of the program, participants receive structured mentoring for a year, which is designed to help them successfully transition back to their communities. A rigorous evaluation of National Guard Youth ChalleNGe found that three years after enrolling in the program, the treatment group had higher levels of GED receipt, employment, earnings, and college enrollment than the control group (Millenky et al. 2011).
Building on the success of Youth ChalleNGe, the Employment and Training Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued $12 million in grants in 2015 to three existing National Guard Youth ChalleNGe grantees to expand their programs to reach court-involved youth and incorporate an additional occupational training phase called Job ChalleNGe. Job ChalleNGe expands the residential time by five months for youth who are eligible and interested, and offers youth occupational skills training, individualized career and academic counseling, work-based learning opportunities, and leadership development activities.
To gain an understanding of the implementation of the DOL Job ChalleNGe grant and the experiences and outcomes of Youth ChalleNGe and Job ChalleNGe participants, Mathematica, Social Policy Research Associates, and MDRC are conducting a two-part evaluation. The first part is an implementation study to help program administrators better understand the program’s key strengths and identify challenges; the second part is an outcomes study to describe how youth fare after completing the program. The study team will collect administrative and program data to measure service receipt and outcomes for participants and will interview program staff and employers, conduct focus groups with youth, review case files, and observe program activities. In addition, the study team will collect monthly text message surveys and a follow-up survey with Job ChalleNGe study participants to gather more details about their program experiences and outcomes.