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POSITIVE RETURNS: RAND Report Finds 166 Percent Return on Investment for National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program

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“The best available evidence indicates that admission to the ChalleNGe program has substantial positive effects on educational attainment,” the report reads. “The analyses described in this report suggest that the social benefits of this increase in educational attainment in terms of higher lifetime labor market earnings (as well as smaller benefits associated with a decrease in criminal activity and social welfare dependency and an increase in service to the community) outweigh the social costs of operating the ChalleNGe program.”

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program is an intensive residential and mentoring program for high school dropouts ages sixteen to eighteen who are unemployed, drug free, and have either no police record or a police record limited to juvenile offenses. It currently operates in twenty-seven states and Puerto Rico and graduates more than 8,200 young people each year. Released on February 28, a cost-benefit analysis by the RAND Corporation finds that the program has positive effects on the educational attainment and employment outcomes of its participants and a significant return on taxpayer dollars.

According to the report, A Cost-Benefit Analysis of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe, the program generates net benefits of $25,549 for each admitted cadet or $2.66 in social benefits for every dollar expended. The program’s return on investment of 166 percent is “considerably higher than that estimated for other rigorously evaluated social programs … and state welfare-to-work programs that seek to alter the life course of disadvantaged youth and young adults,” the report finds.

For their first twenty-two weeks in the program, ChalleNGe participants, who are called cadets, are housed together on a National Guard base or training center for a “residential phase.” During these weeks, they are immersed in a quasi-military environment in which they focus on “discipline, academic excellence, teamwork, physical fitness, leadership, and service to the community,” according to the report. The academic component of the program prepares cadets for the GED (General Education Development) exam given at the end of the residential phase. After completing the residential phase, graduates return to their communities, continue in higher education, or enter the military.

“The best available evidence indicates that admission to the ChalleNGe program has substantial positive effects on educational attainment,” the report reads. “The analyses described in this report suggest that the social benefits of this increase in educational attainment in terms of higher lifetime labor market earnings (as well as smaller benefits associated with a decrease in criminal activity and social welfare dependency and an increase in service to the community) outweigh the social costs of operating the ChalleNGe program.”

The complete report is available at http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2012/RAND_TR1193.pdf.

More information on the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program is available at http://www.ngycp.org/site/.

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