Each year, 1.3 million kids drop out of school. One out of every three.  The human cost is enormous but let's focus for a moment only on the economic cost. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, those 1.3 million teens who did not graduate high school with their peers in 2010 will cost the nation $337 billion in lost wages and productivity over the course of their lifetime. Every one of those teens who goes back into a program to get a diploma has the potential to save the taxpayers $259,230.

Much of our current focus is on keeping kids in school. It should be.  However, we must do something for the one-third that for whatever reason are leaving school.


Few programs for dropouts have produced sustained positive impacts. However, one program, The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, is working well and deserves the attention and support of Congress and taxpayers.

According to a multi-year study recently conducted by MDRC, a social policy and education research organization, graduates of the ChalleNGe Program are more likely to earn their high school diploma or GED, and obtain college credits. In addition, three years after completion of the program, graduates are more likely to be employed and are earning approximately 20 percent more in wages than those who dropped out of school and were eligible, but not accepted into the ChalleNGe Program. The success rate of the Youth ChalleNGe Program is greater than 90 percent.

These results are significant and are backed by hard statistical evidence by an independent research organization. For an investment of approximately $17,000 per ChalleNGe participant, the return is $259,230. Any way you look at it that is a significant return on investment. As Congress continues the budget debate, the Youth ChalleNGe Program should serve as an example of an effective way to spend our tax dollars.

It is my hope that Congress will make wise investments in cost-effective programs, like Youth ChalleNGe, that are working. Only by doing so will we rise from this economic slump and ensure a bright future for this great nation.

Lt. Gen. John B. Conaway served as the Chief of the National Guard Bureau from 1990-1993. He is the Chairman of the National Guard Youth Foundation's Board of Directors.