The Education Explosion in Chuuk
Francis X. Hezel, SJ MicSem Articles | education

With its population of 36,000, Truk is the largest of the six districts in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, an area administered since the end of World War II by the United States. Its estimated per capita income of about $300 a year also makes it the poorest. When, in the early 1960s under the Kennedy Administration, the United States greatly increased its annual budget to the TT and announced the beginning of a development program whose principal focus would be on educational expansion, the people of Truk applauded the move as one that would bring economic prosperity to their islands. Like other Pacific peoples, they viewed education chiefly as a means of upward mobility that would guarantee their children salaried employment in the years to come.

What occurred following the change in U.S. policy was an education explosion that has shaken the Trust Territory and unleashed a gigantic tidal wave of young graduates that has lately engulfed the islands. Nowhere has this explosion been felt more strongly than in Truk where school expansion in recent years has been enormous. In 1965 there was a single moderate-sized high school serving the entire district; today there are no fewer than six. In that year there were a total of 200 Trukese with high school diplomas; today there are more than 2300. A single senior class at Truk High School today produces more Trukese high school graduates than were turned out during the entire first twenty years of American Administration in the TT (1945-1964). In 1965 there were 35 Trukese away at college; today there are over 600 studying abroad. The number of graduates, at the high school and college level, has increased since 1965 by a factor of ten or more.

Truk is almost literally awash with the young graduates that its schools have been mass-producing for some years now. What has been their impact upon their communities, Trukese society as a whole, and the money economy of the districts? What are they presently doing and what are their prospects for the future? This paper will attempt to review some of the highlights of the secondary and post-secondary education explosion in Truk, describe the more immediate consequences of the explosion, and look to its possible impact in the years ahead1.

The High School Boom

We might do well to begin by reviewing the history of secondary school development in Truk, for it is high school expansion more than any other single factor that accounts for the prodigious education explosion of recent years. The data that have been collected on Trukese graduates reveals five quantum leaps that high school education in the districts has made since the end of World War II. Each of them was introduced by a major educational policy change and notable expansion of high school facilities which resulted in significant swelling of high school enrollment. Let us take a brief look at each of these five periods in the history of secondary education in Truk.

1. 1947-1951: Early Teacher Training Schools. In 1947 MATTS (Marianas Area Teacher Training School) was established on Guam as the first post-intermediate school for Micronesian students. It was replaced the following year by PITTS (Pacific Islands Teacher Training School) which was located in Truk and expanded, at first to a two-year, then to a three-year course of studies. A total of 22 Trukese earned their diplomas during these four years, yielding an average of about five graduates a year during this period.

2. 1952-1964: Central TT-Wide High School. With the changeover from Naval to Civilian Administration in the Trust Territory, PITTS was renamed PICS (Pacific Islands Central School). During its initial years, PICS remained primarily a teacher-training school, although it offered a variety of technical and academic training programs. By 1956, however, it has been transformed into a full three-year senior high school. Three years later it was moved to Ponape where it remained the only public senior high school in the Trust Territory until it was phased out in 1965. Xavier High School, a small private school that enrolled boys from all the districts, was opened as a high school in 1953 and graduated its first class three years later. A total of 170 Trukese graduated from PICS and Xavier during this thirteen-year period, or an average of thirteen per year.

3. 1965-1969: District High School. 1965 might be considered a watershed in the history of secondary education in Truk since it marked the first graduating class of Truk High School. During the early 1960s the single interdistrict central high school )PICS) was being replaced by full four-year high schools in each of the districts. Secondary school enrollment was everywhere increased to keep pace with the accelerated elementary school program that was begun in the late Kennedy years. The major educational policy shift was towards a full high school education for as many within the district as possible. In addition, Mizpah High School, an interdistrict high school run by the Protestant Mission, was opened in Truk in 1965. In this five-year period 298 Trukese received their high school diplomas, making an average of 60 a year.

4. 1970-1973: Establishment of Junior High Schools. In 1970 the community-built vocational schools that had been set up on the islands of Ulul, Satawan and Tol during the height of the "Occupational Education: era were transformed into junior high schools and given full academic standing. In 1972 another junior high school was established on Moen at the site of Mizpah, which had ceased operating as a private school; and in 1974 another was built in Toloas. Eventually a system of five junior high schools was completed, all of them funneling their students into Truk High School and swelling its enrollment. The size of graduating classes at Truk High School more than doubled during these years. A total of 607 Trukese completed high school during these four years -- more than had graduated during the entire 25 years of US administration prior to 1970. An average of 152 young men and women finished high school each year.

5. 1974-Present: Expansion of Truk High School. Construction of the new classroom buildings at Truk High School, which had begun in 1972 with the assistance of Typhoon Relief Funds, was finished in 1974 and its conversion into a two-year senior high school was complete. The size of graduating classes again doubled during this period, with an average of 294 receiving their diploma each year. In the years 1974-1977, the total number of graduates was 1175.

TABLE 1: Number of Trukese High School Graduates by Year

1948 3 1958 5 1968 78
1949 4 1959 6 1969 74
1950 6 1960 9 1970 133
1951 9 1961 10 1971 127
1952 8 1962 15 1972 188
1953 19 1963 25 1973 159
1954 14 1964 20 1974 242
1955 16 1965 38 1975 306
1956 14 1966 61 1976 334
1957 10 1967 54 1977 293

Note: Total of graduates listed here is 2270. For 33 of the 2312 total used in the study data the year of graduation is not known.

Sources:  For years 1948-1964, Paul Williams, "Graduates of MITTS, PITTS, PICS, and Truk High School," 30 July 1968.  For years 1965-1977, Lynn Ilon, "Trukese High School Graduates," September 1978

Throughout the years secondary education in the TT has evolved from a single central school aimed at upgrading the skills of teachers to a sprawling system of local schools whose purpose is to provide a general education for all who want it. The growing percentage of high school-age Trukese boys and girls who actually obtain their diplomas clearly reflects this substantial change in educational policy. In the years 1947-1951, the age of the teacher training school, only 2.3 percent of all eligible youth received a school certificate. The percentage increased slightly to 3.8 in the years 1952-1964, the era of the single central high school. In 1965-1969, 13.9 percent of all those who were old enough to graduate from high school actually did so. As the idea of universal secondary education gained currency, finally winning official endorsement by the Administration in 1970, the figures rose even move sharply. During the years 1970-73, the percentage doubled to 27.6; and, in the last four years covered by our study, it increased to 43.9 percent. (See Table 2).

TABLE 2: Average Population of Truk District, Total 19-Year Old Population, Number of H.S. Graduates and Percent of Age-Group Graduating

1948-51 15,000 240 22 5 2.3%
1952-64 20,000 340 170 13 3.8%
1965-69 26,000 440 305 61 13.9%
1970-73 29,000 550 607 152 27.6%
1974-77 33,500 670 1175 294 43.9%

Note: The 19-year old chart of the population was taken to represent those who were eligible for graduation

Sources: Population figures were taken from the reports on the 1958, 1967 and 1973 censuses as well as from the Annual Report ot the UN for those years covered.

Whatever measure we choose to employ, the proportions of the high school boom in Truk are simply staggering, far more so than the population explosion that has aroused such serious concern. In 1964 there were not quite 200 Trukese with high school diplomas; five years later, however, there were about 500. Within another four years, by 1974, the total had more than doubled again to reach 1100. That figure once again doubled after still another four years, giving Truk almost 2300 high school graduates by 1977. (See Table 2). The total population of the Truk District may be doubling every 22 years, but its high school graduate population has been doubling every four. Since 1970, while Truk's entire population was growing by about 25 percent, its number of graduates has increased by 360 percent. Educational expansion on such a grand scale may not bring more mouths to feed, but it surely leaves minds to be nourished and other whetted appetites to be satisfied. In short, it gives rise to a feeding problem of a different sort.

We might note here that the stake of females in the high school boom has risen steadily over the past decade or so. In the years 1965-1969 only sixteen percent of the total high school graduates were girls. During the following four years, girls accounted for 25 percent of the total; and in the most recent years, they have made up 38 percent of the number of graduates. Altogether the nearly 700 Trukese young women who have finished high school since 1965 represent about 30 percent of the total graduates. (See Table 3). Education of women, on the secondary and post-secondary level, has become a generally accepted fact in Truk within recent years. With it has come the search for new roles -- beyond those of housewife, school teacher, or clerk-secretary -- that the young educated females today can assume in their society.

TABLE 3: Number of Female Graduates and Percentage of All Graduates for Each Period

1948-51 22 3 14%
1952-64 170 18 11%
1965-69 305 49 16%
1970-73 607 151 25%
1974-77 1175 441 38%
TOTAL 2279 662 29%

The Surge to College

Towards the end of August each year, the Truk Airport regularly overflows with swarms of young people, decked out in their Sunday best and heaped with flower leis; bidding a tearful goodbye to their parents and friends before they leave Truk, most of them for the first time. They are the latest crop of the college-bound and their number has become legion of late. Equipped with their I-20 form, a college address and a little pocket money, they are off to just about every conceivable corner of the U.S. to sample a world that they know only through the movies. They leave in search of an adventure. For some the adventure may be an intellectual one, but for most it is an opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about American life and to take up the challenge of "making it" in an alien culture. Still others board the plane in August because everyone else they know is leaving for college and they would be ashamed to admit that they were not going away too.

The mass exodus to college, following close on the heels of the expanded high school enrollments, is an important part of the total education explosion. Even if the upsurge in the number of college-bound does not easily fall into the kind of tidy little divisions that we used in the last section of this paper, a brief historical survey will help us grasp the magnitude of the increase in Trukese college students.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the number of Trukese who attended college remained rather small; there were only 38 abroad at schools in 1966 and 49 in 1970. (See Table 4). Most of those who did go on to college attended the College of Guam, usually on a TT Government scholarship, and resided at a special dormitory for Micronesian students located at the edge of the campus. A few others attended college elsewhere, notable Fiji and the Philippines, on medical scholarships and for other specialized training. A mere handful of Trukese got as far as mainland U.S. and those who did usually went on private scholarships. For the most part, young people who attended college in those earlier years were carefully screened through scholarship selection processes and represented the intellectual elite of their schools.

TABLE 4: Number of Trukese in College and Their Location During Given Years

1966 1970 1974 1978
CCM/MOC 0 0 56 57
Guam/Saipan 23 21 62 72
Hawaii 4 16 52 51
U.S.Mainland 3 4 48 414
Other 8 8 19 66
TOTAL 38 49 237 660

Sources: Figures for 1966, 1970 and 1974 were taken from Annual Report to UN for these years.  1978 figures are from Lynn Ilon, "Trukese High School Graduates," Table 3.

By 1970 some notable changes had occurred in this picture. Although Trukese college students had not grown very much in number by then, a perceptible drift eastward had clearly begun towards colleges in Hawaii. Scholarship Hall at the College of Guam had been closed sometime in the late 1960s and the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii had begun to offer technical training courses and other short-term programs to Micronesian participants. Honolulu was becoming the new educational mecca for young Micronesians. Meanwhile, the yearly amount of money made available for college scholarships was growing. Besides the usual TT Government awards, there were also a number of college scholarships funded by the Congress of Micronesia and still others granted by the district legislatures.

The college tide continued to surge in the early 1970s with the increase in scholarships funds, the initiation of a post-secondary vocational program at Micronesian Occupational Center (MOC) in Palau in 1970, and the opening of the Community College of Micronesia (CCM) as a two-year college in 1971. But the greatest impetus of all came late in 1972 when Micronesian students were first declared eligible for U.S. Federal education grants for the economically and socially "disadvantaged." Within a year, Trukese students in great numbers were filing applications for BEOGs and a host of other grants that virtually assured them of the wherewithal to continue their education in the U.S. With the advent of the Federal college grant, pursuit of a college education was no longer contingent upon whether a boy or girl received a scholarship grant. College, in other words, was not longer the prerogative of the intellectually gifted; it became a universal right. As a result, the number of Trukese attending college increased dramatically during these years -- from 50 in 1970, to 240 in 1974, to 600 in 1978. Because of the stipulation that these grants could be used only in American institutions, the drift eastward continued, naturally enough, in the direction of the U.S. mainland, where two-thirds of the students currently abroad are doing their college studies.

The rise in the number of college-bound Trukese has been, if anything, even more impressive than the increase in the district's high school population. Nine of the Trukese graduates in 1965 went on for further education, as compared to well over 100 in each of the years between 1974 and 1977. The college exodus appears to have peaked with the class of 1976 which had almost 190 of its number continue their studies abroad. (See Table 5)

TABLE 5:  Total H.S. Graduates, Number of College-Bound, and Percentage of College-Bound By Year, 1965 - 1977

1965 38 27 9 33%
1966 61 53 19 36%
1967 54 49 20 41%
1968 78 72 19 26%
1969 74 74 40 54%
1970 133 122 55 45%
1971 127 115 52 45%
1972 188 169 99 59%
1973 159 149 80 54%
1974 242 227 131 58%
1975 306 280 177 63%
1976 334 309 189 61%
1977 293 276 117 42%

*"Corrected Total" indicated total of high school graduates minus those whose post-high school career is given as "unknown".

Sources:  Lynn Ilon, "Trukese High SChool Graduates," Table 1A

The percentage of high school graduates going on to college has also increased over the years, but not nearly as dramatically as the absolute numbers might suggest. This is understandable, of course, when we recall that the influx into college was occurring concomitantly with expanding high school enrollment. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the percentage of college-bound graduates in each year fluctuated between 35 and 50 percent. Only in the last six years, with the availability of U.S. Federal funds for all who want them, has the number of those going on to college consistently exceeded 50 percent of the class. In 1975 and 1976, the two peaks years, it reached over 60 percent.

Not only is a greater percentage of each graduating class going on for further studies today, but these students are generally enrolling in college academic courses rather than the special training programs that many of the earlier graduates took. Although nineteen (or roughly half) of the 1966 graduates, for example, are listed as having pursued post-secondary education, only seven of these attended what could properly be called colleges. The others went off to special training program -- for police work, practical nursing, surveying and the like -- that varied greatly in type and length. In 1972, by contrast, two-thirds of those who went on for further education attended college in the strict sense of the word. All indications are that in more recent years an even higher ratio attend college, although we have no figures to support this claim.

Especially talented high school graduates, whether in past years or in our own day, have always been virtually guaranteed the opportunity to continue their education. The top third of the class have usually found the funds, generally through scholarships to go off to college. Today's situation, however, differs markedly from that of past years in this respect: a greater percentage of a much larger and less select high school class are pursuing more ambitious studies programs abroad. Unless the quality of the high schools and their clientele has notably improved since the 1960s, we can only assume that a good number of today's college-bound are insufficiently gifted to meet the challenges of a rigorous college program in a strange culture. This should be borne in mind when considering the success rate of Trukese students in college today.

Even those high school graduates who are seriously deficient basic skills seem to have little difficulty in finding a college to admit them. The liberal admissions policies of many American colleges today are due at least as much to declining enrollments as to the intellectual conviction that no one should be denied an education, whatever his ability and background might be. Micronesian students are a particularly attractive prize for small obscure colleges today; they not only fill empty desks, but "minority group" quotas as well, thus qualifying these financially hard-pressed schools for coveted federal funds. A number of these colleges have been aggressive recruiting campaigns in Truk as elsewhere in Micronesia, and the word is out that they will accept anyone who will have them.

Given all these factors, it is difficult to discuss in any meaningful way the success rate of Trukese college students today. Does "success" mean finishing a two-year degree course in a rural community college with an open admissions policy and no academic standards to speak of? Or does it mean completion of a fairly rigorous academic program at a respectable university? Is it "failure" for a student to return home before the completion of his studies if his father is sick, or his funds are exhausted, or he realizes he is hopelessly over his head in college, or he is simply homesick? Rather than attempt to define success and failure here, perhaps all that we can reasonably hope to do is present a summary of the raw data. Between 1965 and 1977, about 270 Trukese students have competed a degree program at some level leading to the reception of an AA, A, MA or their equivalents, with about 90 of them earning a Bachelor's degree or higher. (See Table 6). During the same period, another 171 have left school for some reason before the completion of their program. If we should choose to regard the former groups as successful, then the "success rate" of Trukese students abroad is 62 percent.

TABLE 6: Total Trukese H.S. Graduates by Sex, College Education and Degree Obtained

College Educ Male Female Total
None 626 369 995
Less than 2 yrs 127 44 171
A A Degree 149 55 204
B A Degree 62 10 72
M A Degree 15 2 17
Still in School 488 172 660
Unknown 152 41 193
TOTAL 1619 693 2312

Source: Lynn Ilon, "Trukese High School Graduates," Tables 1A and 3

What They Do After School

"What will they all do after they finish high school?" is the question that is often raised of young Trukese students today. What they actually have done is rather clear from the data that has been collected. The general pattern that emerges follows these lines.

First they submit their applications to college, work to win their family's approval, and try to scrape together enough money for their plane fare to the U.S. Slightly more than one-half of all the high school graduates since 1965 have successfully managed all of these things and have gone off to college, many of them prompted by the hope of better job prospects after earning a higher degree. Those who, for some reason, do not make it to college look for a job -- preferably, it seems, on their home island where family ties still hold a strong attraction for them. In earlier years, it was rather easy for high school graduates to find employment on their own islands as elementary school teachers. Of the Truk High School graduating class of 1966, for example, 25 out of 37 found jobs in education, almost all of them on their home islands. More recently, however, teaching positions in village schools have become much more difficult to obtain; they have long since been filled by the earlier waves of high school graduates. And there is virtually no other salaried employment available in the villages!

With the lack of openings in the elementary schools, recent graduates who want a regular paycheck are forced to leave their home islands and follow the job harvest. That, of course, leads them to Moen Island, the district center and port town, where a growing number of young men and women have settled of late. This accounts for the fact that only 45 percent of the Class of 1972 have returned to their home islands to live, compared with 70 percent of the Class of 1966.

If there are no jobs for them on Moen, then most young people eventually leave for their own island where they can at least live off the land and count on the support of close kin. They may dally in the district center for a year or two to "catch a piece of the action" while they half-heartedly hunt for a job, but they soon tire of this footloose life and return home to live with their families and await their turn for a CETA salary. Some will keep a close lookout for an opportunity to get to college, perhaps to escape temporarily the tedium of life on a small island or possibly to improve their chances of finding a job in the future. Most, however, simply marry, have children, and settle into the quiet village life that they had known before their high school days.

Admittedly this description runs contrary to the prevailing myth that high school students, once seduced by the bright lights of the district center, will not willingly "return to the farm." Whether willingly or not, they do return. The facts show that over 60 percent of all high school graduates not currently in college are no living on their home islands. (See Table 7). Of the 400 (or 30 percent of the total) who have taken up residence on Moen, all but 70 have found full salary employment. This latter number, it should be noted, is only slightly larger than that of the high school graduates who have moved from their home island to the other islands in Truk combined, usually be reason of marriage. The 70 (or five percent of the total) who have remained in the district center without employment include young men and women who have found spouses from Moen and are raising families there, besides those temporary drifters who are kicking up their heels a bit, before settling down on their own islands. All of this hardly confirms the popular view of the district center as overrun with jobless high school graduates who fast become habitués of the local jail. Our data shows an altogether different picture: very few high school graduates remain on Moen unless they have found a job (or a spouse) there -- and those who do will not usually remain very long.

TABLE 7: Present Residence of H.S. Graduates Not Presently in School by Attainment of College Education

None 613 (67) 239 (26) 40 (4) 26 (3)
Less than 2 yrs 97 (63) 45 (30) 8 (5) 4 (2)
A A Degree 92 (46) 66 (42) 10 (6) 10 (6)
B A Degree or higher 25 (37) 29 (43) 4 (6) 10 (14)
Unkonown 67  52  5 5
TOTAL 874 (61) 431 (30)  67 (5) 55 (4)

Note Figures in parentheses are percentage. The sum of each horizontal row is 100 %.

Source:  Lyn Ilon, "Trukese High School Graduates," Table 2A

Much of what has just been said of high school graduates can also be applied analogously to those who have gone away to college. Very few of those who have ended their college studies have chosen to remain permanently in the U.S. or other parts of the world. Our data shows 55 Trukese not now in studies residing outside of Truk District, thirteen of them living in the U.S.; this figure represents a mere four percent of all the graduates who have finished their studies. In short, there has been no appreciable "brain drain" out of Truk up to the present. Nearly all those who have gone on to college in past years have returned to Truk, confident of finding jobs in the district to match their qualifications. Inasmuch as those who have returned with college degrees number only 200 and have been scattered throughout a period of several years, they have seldom been disappointed. Like the early high school graduates who were fortunate enough to be able to return to both family and a job on their home island, these college degree-holders have found both a cultural home and employment upon their return from abroad.

More of the college-educated are making their home on Moen, as we might expect, presumably because of the availability of better-paying and higher status jobs in the district center. Forty-two percent of those with a two-year degree and 43 percent of those who have earned a four-year degree have taken up residence on Moen. (See Table 7) By comparison, 30 percent of those who have returned after less than two years abroad and 26 percent of those who have never gone away have moved to the district center. It appears, understandably enough, that the greater one's college attainment, the more likely he is to make his home on Moen after his return.

If there has yet been no evidence of any substantial "brain drain" in Truk, we must remember that the real impact of the college exodus has not yet been felt in the district. Almost two-thirds of all those who have gone on to college are still away. Those who have come back, as we already mentioned, have been absorbed into an expanding economy over a rather extended period of time. In general, those Trukese who have finished college have not yet been required to make the difficult choice between returning home to remain idle or finding a sure job overseas. If, in the future, employment opportunities in Truk should diminish, then those in college might face this perplexing decision. Would they follow their homing instinct and return to Truk without guarantee of a job, or would they remain abroad to find salaried employment? As yet this remains an unanswered question.

Facing the Job Crunch

A good majority (about 60 percent) of the high school graduates have, as we have seen, returned to their home islands to live. To help us understand what awaits them there, it might be well to take a closer look at one such island -- Patta Municipality on the wester side of Tol, whose population was given as 690 in the 1973 census.

In 1973, when I was living on Patta, there were only twelve high school graduates from that island, all of them employed. Ten were elementary school teachers working on Patta or on nearby Polle, and two had jobs on Moen in health services, one of whom commuted each day from Patta. Nine of the graduates resided on Patta and another lived quite close by.

As of last year, the number of graduates had tripled to 35, but the employment situation in education and health services had not changed very much in the meantime. Eight of the original ten teachers still had their jobs and three people were now working in public health. (The commuter had moved to Moen, but continued to work in the dental clinic). Two more graduates had found jobs on Patta, one in the district legislature and the other for a small business, while another two found employment on Moen where they now live. The total number working for a salary was now fifteen, a net gain of three jobs in the intervening five years.

What about the rest? Eight of them, one of whom now resides on Moen, are listed as "unemployed" and are presumably tending their taro patches and diving for octopus. Eleven more who are away at college have not even entered the job market yet. When they do, it is highly doubtful that they will find any improvement in the employment situation on their own island. With the local teaching positions filled and the hospital staffed to its budgetary limits, the best they can reasonably expect is a short-term training job funded by CETA. An increase of three jobs and 24 graduates over a five-year period does not bode well for the future. The picture that our data gives of Patta -- as of just about every other island in Truk -- is a woefully stagnant economy that has little to offer those young diploma-bearers who must have jobs to be happy.

"The lucky ones were those Micronesians who finished school in the 1960s and had no trouble getting jobs right away." Anyone who has spent time with today's crop of high school students has probably heard this remark dozens of times over. There is, of course, a great deal of truth to it, and some justification as well for the tinge of resentment with which it is often uttered.

Today's mammoth educational system was conceived in the last decade by planners who were riding the crest of an employment boom. With the implementation of the newly-formulated policy of Micronesianization, many positions formerly held by expatriates were being offered to qualified Micronesians (and often the qualifications meant little more than having a degree in hand!). The new schools that were built in the early 1960s had to be staffed with educated Micronesians, for American contract teachers were being phased out and Peace Corps was soon to take a firm stand against deploying its volunteers to fill teaching slots. Moreover, with the yearly increment in the TT Budget, there were new offices conjured into being everytime one looked around -- and new desks in these offices to be filled! They were indeed fortunate times for young Micronesians and heady ones for educational planners.

And so the schools were expanded and enrollments soared, while planners kept a far more careful eye on population projections than on employment prospects. Universal education -- first at the elementary level, then at the secondary -- was the rallying cry of almost everyone in the Trust Territory at the time. But as the schools were filled and the budget reached a ceiling and actually threatened to dip, educators and those being educated alike realized that there was trouble ahead. "Where do we find jobs for all those finishing school?" was the next refrain to be heard.

"Not in the government," was the reply of administrators struggling to achieve that next to impossible feat of laying off personnel. "We're faced with budget cuts and can't afford to be en employment agency any longer."

"Don't expect much of the private sector," was the echo of businessmen. "The day of the big tourist industry just hasn't arrived, and everyone knows that our expansion depends on government salaries. Where the administration goes, we follow."

"Don't look at us," the educators said. "We only promised you knowledge, perhaps even wisdom, but never jobs. These you will have to create for yourselves."

"Out of what?" asked the disappointed school children, who, to take their minds off their unpromising future, went on to more schools hoping that some answer would be found before they ran out of schools to attend and degrees to collect.

Indeed, the massive exodus to college within the last four or five years has softened the impact of the hordes of recent high school graduates on the creaking job market. More than half of Truk's recent high school graduates are still abroad for studies after all. College, them, has been something of a solution to the job shortage -- but only a temporary one, of course. It has merely postponed the day of reckoning for the young and the rest of Trukese society.

Even with more than 600 college students withdrawn for a time from the labor force, Truk has still had to absorb over 1600 high school graduates into its economy since 1965. Considering their number, they have fared surprisingly well. About two-thirds of them have managed to find jobs, that vast majority (76 percent) with the government. (See Table 8). The remaining third -- the 500 unemployed -- include 200 females, many of whom have probably adopted the full-time role of housewife. The 300 young men who have not found jobs are, as we have already pointed out, well distributed throughout the many islands of the district, not huddled together in a small enclave feeding one another's discontent and plotting violent revolutions. At present, the unemployed comprise an amazingly small percentage of the total number of high school graduates in Truk, and this despite the dormant economies that have been illustrated above.

TABLE 8: Present Employment of H.S. Graduates Who Have Finished Studies

Employment Male Female Total
Education 337 85 422
Other Govt 236 109 345
Private 138 99 237
Total Employed 711 293 1004
Unemployed 308 199 507

Source:  Lynn Ilon, "Trukese High School Graduates," Table 5A

How, might we ask, has Truk been able to perform the economic miracle required to find jobs for so many of its recent graduates? Will it be able to duplicate this feat again and again in future years as its 600-plus college students return and high school graduates continue to pour out of its schools?

To answer the first question, we must turn to employment and TT Budget figures for Truk District. A glance at the employment figures reveals that during the twelve years between 1963 and 1975 the number of positions held by Trukese increased from about 1000 to 2800. (See Table 9). This comes to an average gain of 150 jobs a year during those boom years when the budget was increased annually and private businesses were proliferating. By 1975, however, the budget had leveled off and government reductions-in-force were being announced almost daily. Nonetheless, an astonishing 900 jobs were added in Fiscal Year 1976, and a whopping 1200 more in 1977. Employment in Truk expanded more during those two years than it had in the previous dozen, the heyday of the growing economy.

TABLE 9: Number of T.T. Citizens Employed in Truk for Given Years

Year TTGovt Private Total Employed
1963 449 594 1,043
1967 694 849 1,543
1970 1,077 755 1,832
1973 1,356 1,159 2,515
1975 1,457 1,346 2,803
1976 2,148 1,595 3,743
1977 NA NA 4,970

Note: "TT Govt" includes only those on the TT Administration payroll and does not include persons employed by Congress of Micronesia, District Legislature or municipalities.

Source: Annual Reprots to UN for 1963 to 1976.  Figures for 1977 were taken from T.T. Office of Planning and Statistics, Bulletin of Statistics, Vol. 1, No. 2 (June 1978).

The economic "miracle" that gave rise to so many additional jobs and made possible the employment of great numbers of young graduates (and others as well) resulted from funds provided by U.S. Federal Programs. CETA alone employed 1500 persons in the last three years, although not all were on year-round jobs. A raft of other Federal programs, especially in education, health and other social services, accounted for the employment of many others. Just as it was Federal programs that built the schools in the first place, and another Federal Program that enabled so many of their graduates to attend college, so it was still others that provided employment for those finishing studies, enabling Truk to avert a major employment crisis.

Can this "miracle" be duplicated in the years ahead? Certainly not at the present level of U.S. Federal program funding. Monies available to be tapped -- as the euphemism goes -- would have to be incremented enormously in order to provide jobs for all the educated who will seek them. Employment for those 600 college students alone who will be returning within the next four years would cost about two million dollars a year in salaries. In any case, the very existence of Federal programs after the termination of the Trusteeship Status in 1981 is questionable. There may well be no future economic miracles at all.


The prodigious educational expansion in Truk as in other districts of the Trust Territory, was triggered by the increased U.S. administrative budgets throughout the 1960s and early 70s that went hand in hand with a development strategy emphasizing "investment in human resources" through improved health and education. The buildup of the elementary school system in the mid-60s was soon followed by a major secondary school construction program and policy announcement that universal secondary school education would become the major goal for the 70s. In 1973, just as the high school expansion program was almost complete and this goal within reach, Federal funds were made available to Micronesian students, thus enabling them to attend college in far greater numbers than ever before. Consequently, an enormous increase in tertiary-level education followed close on the heels of the secondary education explosion. All the while, Trukese parents, who looked to the financial returns that would accrue to their children for additional schoolings, strongly supported the educational expansion program in the district.

Expansion of the government bureaucracy as TT budgets rose sharply during the late 60s and early 70s guaranteed employment for most of those who completed their education during those years. Then the annual budget reached a ceiling in 1975, an additional 2000 jobs funded by supplementary Federal Programs and a mass exodus of high school graduates to U.S. colleges combined to avert a serious unemployment problem among young Trukese graduates. Such a crisis cannot be postponed indefinitely, however. Given the sluggish state of Truk's economy, which is still dependent principally on U.S. government spending, it is unlikely that most of those finishing high school and college will find salaried employment in the years to come.

The prospect of widespread unemployment among educated young people, whose own aspirations and those of their parents are pointed to wage employment and the social status that this confers, suggests the possibility of serious social upheaval that is bred frustrations. This would appear to most expatriate observers to be the stuff of which delinquency, crime and general mayhem is made. Nonetheless, data for recent years how that high school graduates who have not found jobs soon return to their home islands to re-enter the semi-subsistence economy with little indication of the stress that many of us might have predicted. With a cheerful acceptance of the vagaries of fortune that is characteristic of Trukese, they have apparently resigned themselves to doing without the jobs that they had hoped to obtain after graduation. Whether the large number of young Trukese who are now away at college will be able to display the same resignation still remains an open question. If they can, then the "brain drain" that has long been anticipated by many of us can be averted.


1. The data used here is drawn from a survey of all Trukese high school graduates that Lynn Ilon completed in June 1978 with the assistance of two Xavier High School seniors, Lesther Muritok and Speeder Setile. The information that they so laboriously gathered on graduates was used to compile an individual education/employment profile for each. These were then coded and, with the generous assistance of the TT Office of Planning and Statistics, programmed for a computer run. A printout of the data was graciously furnished to the author for preparation of this paper.

Hezel, Francis X. S.J. "Education Explosion in Truk." Pacific Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring 1979: 167-85. Also published in: Micronesian Reporter, Vol. 16, No. 4, 1978: 24-33; TTPI Quarterly Bulletin of Statistics, Vol. 2, No. 3, September 1979: 1-9; Island, Vol. 1, No. 7, December 1978 and Vol. 1, No. 8, January-February 1979.