MicSem Publications

In the Aftermath of the Education Expolosion

by Francis X. Hezel, SJ

1985 Education

The survey of all Trukese high school graduates that we carried out in 1978 documented the enormous education explosion that was then taking place in Truk, the most populous of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia.l The survey was conducted shortly after the onset of self-government just as annual U.S. subsidies were reaching their peak and were about to begin tapering off. The spirit of optimism that had been fostered by the rapid employment boom of the late 60s and early 70s was still very much in the air. The number of jobs in Truk had increased steadily for two decades as a result of Washington's largesse, and the extension of additional US Federal Program funds to the islands during the three years just prior to the study had multiplied employment opportunities still more. Confidence in education as the gateway to future employment remained high, and unprecedented numbers of young Trukese enrolled in high school and went abroad to attend college.

The education explosion was at its most intense at this time. The dramatic high school building that had been taking place from the early 60s reached the point at which public high schools were turning out about 300 graduates a year, more than had been produced during the entire first two decades of US administration. The surge of graduates into college followed closely on the heels of the high school expansion. In 1978, five years after US-funded college aid grants were extended to Micronesia, there were 660 Trukese away in college, more than ten times as many as had been in college eight years earlier. Two-thirds of the 1500 high school graduates who had remained in Truk or returned from college had found salaried employment, thanks to the growth in employment that was fueled largely by the increase in US Federal Program dollars.2 Those who were not fortunate enough to find immediate employment generally returned to their village and waited for the break they felt was inevitable.

Yet, even amid the prevailing climate of optimism, there were some who saw all this as the crest of a wave that was about to break upon the shoals of Truk's weak economic base. The 660 graduates then away in college represented a full 30 percent of all who had ever obtained a high school diploma. With the government payroll pushed to its outer limits through the infusion of Federal Program money and a cutback in US funds looming in the near future, how could a bloated local government ever hope to absorb all of these returning college graduates, to say nothing of the large numbers of additions to the labor force who were being churned out of the high schools every year? If Truk could not satisfy the aspirations of all these educated young people, perhaps we would soon see the beginning of a brain drain. In the eyes of some, Truk had clearly reached a critical turn at the time of the 1978 study.

In an effort to find out how the educational and employment situation had changed in the six years since the 1978 study, we recently undertook a follow-up survey of all Trukese high schools graduates.3 In conducting this survey we retained the methodology and general design used in the previous study to allow for comparisons between findings. Our principal purpose was to get a reliable profile of the graduates today so that we could track changes in education patterns over time, particularly in relation to other features in the socio-economic landscape. The value of such a study transcends its limited geographical and chronological scope, since it is probably indicative of what is happening elsewhere in Micronesia in these closing years of trusteeship. Unfortunately, despite the concern with economic planning of late, no similar studies have been conducted anywhere else in Micronesia.

High School Enrollment

High school enrollment made its first major leap in the mid-1960s when the first local public high school was opened on Truk. The early 1970s saw a fourfold increase in the yearly output of high school graduates following the construction of several junior high schools and the expansion of senior high school facilities on Moen Island, the government and business center of Truk. In addition to the enlarged public school enrollment, some 20 or 30 Trukese each year were graduating from a Catholic high school on Truk (Xavier High School) and other private schools outside of Truk that served a broader area of Micronesia. Trukese high school enrollment peaked in 1976 with 319 graduates (see Table 1).

Table 1: Number of Trukese High School Graduates by Year

Year Male Female Total Year Male Female Total
1948-50 11 2 13 1968 57 16 73
1951 10 1 11 1969 62 14 76
1952 8 0 8 1970 111 34 145
1953 13 5 18 1971 101 31 132
1954 15 1 16 1972 138 42 180
1955 14 1 15 1973 102 63 165
1956 12 2 14 1974 166 85 251
1957 11 0 11 1975 197 106 303
1958 6 0 6 1976 185 134 319
1959 1 1 2 1977 165 117 282
1960 9 110 1978 1978 129 132 261
1961 9 2 11 1979 94+ 99+ 193+
1962 14 0 14 1980 153 110 263
1963 22 3 25 1981 128 131 259
1964 18 3 21 1982 137 103 240
1965 31 6 37 1983 5* 6* 11*
1966 49 5 54        
1967 45 10 55 Total 2228 1266 3494

+ These figures represent the number of 1979 graduates surveyed, but this is almost certainly an undercount. The figures for 1979 recorded elsewhere are: 152 males, 137 females, 289 total.
* The public high school was closed for the entire school year of 1982-83 because of a cholera epidemic. The figures given here are for private school graduates.

Sources: Paul Williams, "Graduates of MITTS, PITTS, PICS and Truk High School," 1968; Hezel, "Education Explosion," Table I ; 1984 high school graduates survey.

Since 1978, however, high school enrollment has shown a considerable decline. The average size of the graduating classes during these recent years (with the exception of 1983, when public high schools were closed due to a cholera epidemic) has dropped from 294 in the mid-70s to 262, a falloff of 32 a year. Although this decrease in the number graduating from high school is not great, its importance should not be underestimated. It marks the first decline in high school attendance of any real duration since the inauguration of the American education system, and it may represent the end of the dream of universal secondary school attendance in Truk. With the rapid growth of population in Truk, the estimated percentage of the eligible age group graduating from high school now stands at about 35%, down from the 44% recorded in 1978 (see Table 2). At present, therefore, about one-third of the high school age population complete 12 years of education, and in all probability this figure will continue to fall in the future.

Table 2: Number of High School Graduates and Percent of Age-Group Graduating

Avg Truk Pop
for Period
Avg No 19-yr Olds
per Year
Total HS Grads
in Period
Ann Avg
HS Grads
% of Avg-Gp

The first column is the average population for the period. From this was derived the 19-year old cohort of the population, which was taken to represent those who were eligible for graduation.

Sources: Population figures were taken from the reports on the 1958, 1967, 1973 and 1980 censuses as well as from the Annual Report to the UN for those years covered.

Even as the general enrollment was dropping during recent years, the number of female graduates continued to grow. Indeed, in 1978, for the first time ever, the number of female graduates was greater than the number of males (see Table 1). Women constituted 47% of all the high school graduates in 1978-83, a significant gain over the 38% recorded for the previous period (see Table 3). This is even more remarkable when we take into account that in the early 1970s women accounted for only one-fourth of the total high school graduates. The reverse side of this, of course, is that the number of male graduates has slipped even more than our general figures might have suggested. The average number of male graduates has dropped by almost 40 a year from the mid-1970s.

Table 3: Number of Female Graduates and College Attendance Abroad

High School Grade
College Abroad
  Total Female Percent Total Female Percent
1948-51 24 3 13 4 0 0
1952-64 171 19 11 65 8 12
1965-69 295 51 17 170 31 18
1970-73 622 170 27 387 93 24
1974-77 1155 441 38 759 233 31
1978-83 1323 618 47 539 219 41
TOTAL 3590 1304 36 1924 584 30

Total high school graduates is given here as 3590 rather than the 3494 total indicated in Table 1 since the larger number for 1979 graduates was used.

Sources: Hezel, "Education Explosion," Table 3; 1984 high school graduate survey.

Why the decline in enrollments in recent years? Perhaps the most likely reason is the disillusionment of parents and students with the education system for its failure to bring employment, long regarded as the sure reward for twelve years of schooling. With jobs no longer the certain result of education, some parents have pulled their children out of school to help on their land or in their businesses rather than risk a vain investment of their children's time in a system that no longer guarantees a source of support later on. Better the sure gains of another pair of hands in family work enterprises right now than the uncertain dividends of a government salary later. The educator may lament the fact that the benefits of education are seen in monetary terms, but this is the dominant view in Truk today.

College Attendance

The picture of high school graduates streaming into US colleges that emerged in the 1978 study has changed to some extent, not only in the numbers going off to college today but in the colleges they attend. Just as 1976 was the peak year in the output of high school graduates in Truk, it also marked the high-water mark of the tide of young Trukese into college. About seven out of every ten graduates of that year – or 221 young men and women in all – left Truk to continue their education (see Table 4). This was the height of a growing surge into college that had built up rapidly during the early 70s after Micronesians became eligible for US financial assistance for college. The number away in college jumped in 1974 to almost five times what it had been four years earlier, and it tripled again in 1978 to 660 away in college (see Table 5).

Table 4: Number and Percentage of Graduates with College Abroad and in Truk

Year Total College Abroad CCM-Truk Total in College
    No. % No. % No. %
1965 37 26 70 6 16 32 86
1966 54 25 46 18 34 43 80
1967 55 30 55 13 24 43 78
1968 73 38 52 16 22 54 74
1969 76 51 67 13 17 64 84
1970 145 81 56 22 15 103 71
1971 132 83 63 11 8 94 71
1972 180 124 69 22 12 146 81
1973 165 99 60 11 7 110 67
1974 251 172 69 13 5 185 74
1975 303 205 68 18 6 223 73
1976 319 221 69 16 5 237 74
1977 282 161 57 28 10 189 67
1978 261 142 54 14 5 156 60
1979 193 88 46 14 7 102 53
1980 263 108 41 15 6 123 47
1981 259 105 41 17 7 122 47
1982 240 93 39 10 4 103 43
TOTAL 3288 1852 56 277 8 2129 65

Sources: Paul Williams, "Graduates of MITTS, PITTS, PICS and Truk High School," 1968; Hezel, "Education Explosion," Table I ; 1984 high school graduates survey.

Table 5: Number of Graduates in College Abroad and their Distribution

  1970 1974 1978 1984
CCM/MOC+ 0 (0) 56 (24) 57 (9) 44 (8)
Guam/Saipan 21 (43) 62 (26) 72 (11) 175 (33)
Hawaii 16 (44) 52 (22) 51 (8) 86 (16)
US Mainland 4 (8) 48 (20) 414 (63) 222 (41)
Other 8 (16) 19 (8) 66 (10) 9 (2)
TOTAL 49 237 660 536

+CCM/MOC – Community College of Micronesia in Ponape and Micronesian Occupational Center in Palau, the two junior colleges in the territory.
Numbers in parenthesis indicate percentage of all college students in a particular location. The columns for each year total 100%.

Sources: Figures for 1966, 1970 and 1974 were taken from Annual Report to UN for these years. 1978 figures and table adapted from Hezel, "Education Explosion," Table 4. 1984 figures are from the recent survey of graduates.

Since the late 70s there has been a sharp drop in the number of those going off to college. Only 44% of these smaller graduating classes have been leaving Truk to attend college; this is a sharp decline from the 65% going abroad during the previous five-year period, 1973-77 (see Table 4). If we look at the change in terms of numbers rather than percentages, we find that there were 320 fewer graduates going abroad during the recent five-year period (1978-82) than during the period before that (1973-77).

Not everyone who goes on to do college work necessarily leaves Truk, it should be noted. For some years now there has been an extension program of the Community College of Micronesia operating in Truk, and with government pressure upon teachers to obtain certification in the form of an AA degree, enrollments have increased in recent years. As Table 4 indicates, the CCM extension program has had the effect of boosting college rates slightly (about 5-10%) for all years. Thus, the total college attendance rate for 1973-77 is slightly above 70%, while that for the 1978-82 graduates is close to 50%. This program, moreover, has greatly inflated the college attendance rate for earlier classes, particularly during the 1960s, to between 75%, and 85%. The CCM extension program has been generally utilized by persons who have held longtime teaching positions but are now forced to complete an AA degree to retain their jobs. Within the last two or three years, however, there have been unmistakable signs that graduates are now seriously considering CCM -Truk as one of their college options. Twenty or thirty of the current enrollment of 140 full-time students are recent high school graduates. During the current year, another local college program has been inaugurated, this one run by Eastern Oregon State College for 64 full-time students working for their AB degree. Both college programs, if they continue, offer graduates an inexpensive means of acquiring some college education while remaining in Truk.

In addition to the significant drop in the number of college-bound high school graduates, there is also a striking change in their destination. The number attending college in mainland US today has fallen sharply from what it was in 1978; then 63% were in the mainland, while today 41 % are there (see Table 5). There has been a corresponding increase in the number studying in Hawaii (from 8% to 16%) and an even greater increase in the number going to school on Guam (from 11% to 33%). This signifies a shift back from the mainland, where most of the college-bound headed during the mid1970s, back to less distant locations, especially Hawaii and Guam (although Truk itself cannot be forgotten either). This shift is all the more obvious when we consider the destinations of the most recent graduates (see Table 6). Of the 264 graduates since 1979 who are still in college, only 61 of these are in the mainland and another 47 in Hawaii. Nearly half of them, 116 in all are studying in Guam, with another 38 at school in Ponape and Palau.

Table 6: Graduates of 1979–82 Now in College and their Distribution

  1979 1980 1981 1982 TOTAL
CCM/MOC 1 6 12 19 38
Guam 10 34 39 33 116
Hawaii 6 8 12 21 47
US Mainland 17 23 13 8 61
Other 2 0 0 0 2
TOTAL 36 71 76 81 264

In short, then, there are fewer high school graduates leaving for college now than six years ago, and those who do leave are not going as far. This trend can probably be explained in good part by simple financial considerations. Even with US educational assistance in the form of BEOGs and student loans, students were obliged to cover the cost of their airfare and to provide enough pocket money to meet their living expenses at college until they could work out further arrangements with the financial aid officer at the college. The airfare costs within Micronesia, which had remained relatively stable for a time after the first oil crisis in the early 70s, began to soar again later in the decade; with fares rising by 80% between 1977 and 1981. Meanwhile, budgetary restrictions imposed on the local governments resulted in a large cutback in the number of jobs after 1979, as we will see in greater detail later. It is true that some Trukese students in Hawaii and the mainland were involved in well-publicized brushes with the police and Immigration authorities leading to peremptory deportation, but much the same was happening from time to time on Guam as well. Although parents of students sometimes cited these difficulties or serious accidents, some involving deaths, as the main reason for not sending their sons and daughters to US colleges, the principal factor in their decision was probably the increasingly prohibitive costs of sending them to the US.

In college attendance as in high school enrollment, females have made surprising progress in the last few years despite the overall decline. Although the number of young women going abroad in 1978-83 decreased slightly in comparison with the previous period, the female share of all college-bound graduates rose a healthy ten percent, from 31% to 41% (see Table 3). The rate continues to rise, then, as it has from the beginning, but the ascent of female college-bound still lags behind that of female high school graduates. It should also be noted that females apparently leave college sooner than males, for only 30% of the 538 Trukese still away in college are women.

What do the students who go away to college have to show for their efforts when they return? This has always been a difficult question to answer, in part because of the problem of determining whether or not a particular young person has actually obtained his or her degree. Beyond this, however, there is nagging question of whether the conventional academic attainments are viable norms for measuring the success of the Micronesian's college adventure. Degrees may serve as credentials that have some meaning when the young person appears at the Personnel Office in search of a job, but in the eyes of the community the mere fact that a person has lived abroad while attending college for a few years seems to confer a special status regardless whether he ever received his degree. In view of all this, we decided to make a methodological change from the 1978 study and use the number of years away as our principal norm rather than academic credentials obtained. The data on degrees, to the extent that it is reliable, shows 276 AA degrees and 191 BA degrees or the equivalent, with ten MAs and five professional degrees (see Table 7). Perhaps more important than this, however, is the fluency in English and a cosmopolitanism that returning college students bring home with them. This makes them vital resources for their own society and often bestows on them a mystique that makes them models for other young persons in their village.

Table 7: Number and Kind of Degree Obtained

Degree Male Female Total
Certificate 30 8 38
AA/AS 202 74 276
BA/BS 145 46 191
MA 9 1 10
Professional 5 0 5
TOTAL 391 129 520

Residence Patterns

If those leaving high school, particularly those without the means or the aspiration to go on to college, could find salary employment in their village, most would happily return to their islands, marry and live out their lives in the bosom of their own communities. The evidence for this preference is strong. For one thing, that is in fact what most of the earlier graduates chose to do. A study of the Truk High School class of 1966 done eleven years later revealed that 70% of the 1966 graduates, less than one fifth of whom had till then gone on to college, returned to their home islands where almost all found employment as teachers and health aids.4 Family ties have always held a strong attraction for Trukese and this remains true today. This point is essential in the interpretation of the data of the present survey.

If greater numbers are leaving their islands for other destinations today, it seems to be the search for jobs rather than a distaste for the sedate village life that drives them away. Village economies remain stagnant, despite all the socioeconomic changes that the past two decades have brought. Opportunities for salaried employment are almost entirely limited to the village school, with one or two additional jobs as health aides and agriculture extension officers, and most of these positions have been filled for years.

In the 1978 study of high schools graduates, we took a comparative look at one small island, the municipality of Paata, to illustrate the severe limitations of the village economy. It might be helpful to use this same example to show how little the economy has changed in the last decade. In 1973 there were only 12 high school graduates from Paata, all of whom were employed, ten of them as teachers living on or close to their home island. By 1978 the number of graduates from Paata had tripled to 36. Of the 21 residing on Paata, 13 were able to find jobs, with all but two of them working either in the village school or as health aides.5 The results of our latest survey show that the number of Paata graduates had risen to 70, with 39 of them now living on their own island. Only 17, or less than half of these, are employed, and even that modest increase of four jobs was wholly due to the opening of a school annex in another village and the funding of a Head Start Program. In summary, then, the number of graduates from Paata in the last decade multiplied from 12 to 70, while the number of those working for a salary on that island rose from ten to only 17, with all but two of these employed in education. Naturally, the spillover to Moen in search of employment increased as the number of graduates multiplied during the decade. In 1973 there was only one person working on Moen; in 1978 there were three; and in 1984 there were nine graduates working on Moen and another four without jobs. Meanwhile, there are still 15 Paata graduates away in college who are expected to return within the next four years.

Even with the dismal state of the village economy, graduates do not by any means abandon all thoughts of returning to their home island when jobs become scarce. Indeed there is a strong discernible pattern to the contrary that emerges in this as in past studies of high school graduates in Truk. The present survey shows that a sizable majority (58%) of those graduates of 1978-83 not now in college have returned to their home island (see Table 8). This is close to the 61% figure that was recorded in the 1978 study.6 If we add in the number of graduates who have taken up residence on another island (excluding Moen), usually for reasons of marriage or kinship obligations, the figures for those returning to quiet village life reach 60% for recent graduates and 66% for those surveyed in the 1978 study. The college attainment of the graduates enters into the picture, of course, in that the less college a young person has had, the more likely he is to return to his home island. Of the 1978-83 graduates 64% of those without any college returned to their home island, but the percentage dropped sharply for those who had gone away to college and varied inversely with the number of years they had been away (see Table 8). It is not surprising that the same pattern appeared in the 1978 study, for as job prospects improve with the amount of time spent in college there is greater incentive to move to Moen or beyond to look for wage employment.

Table 8: Present Residence of Recent Graduates (1978-83) by Years Away in College

Years Away Home Is. Other in Truk Moen Out of Truk Unknown TOTAL
0 428 (64) 18 (3) 164 (24) 48 (7) 15(2) 673 (100)
1-2 43 (43) 3 (3) 49 (49) 4 (4) 1(1) 100 (100)
3-5 20 (39) 0 24 (47) 7 (14) 0 51 (100)
5 + 0 0 2 (33) 4 (67) 0 6 (100)
? 7 (32) 0 15 (68) 0 0 22 (100)
TOTAL 498 (58) 21 (2) 254 (30) 63 (7) 16 (3) 852 (100)

Figure in parenthesis represents percentage with each line totaling 100%.

A smaller percentage of graduates have always settled in Moen to play the job market, and this continues to be so today. Thirty percent of all recent graduates have taken up residence there, the same percentage as was recorded in the 1978 study. The surprise is that, with diminishing job prospects everywhere else in Truk, more of the recent crop of graduates did not make the move to Moen. Yet not all graduates can easily find people with whom to stay on Moen. Moreover, a move may have been seen as a futile gesture in the light of declining job opportunities on Moen as well. Graduates whose chances for finding a job were dim would rather have gone back home to wait until an opportunity came their way. Of special interest is that a growing percentage of graduates in the most recent period took still another option and moved out of Truk altogether. The present study shows 7%, nearly twice the percentage of those surveyed in 1978, living out of Truk State. We shall return for a closer look at this slight but pronounced trend in a later section.

There is one final trend to be observed in Trukese residence patterns: graduates show an increasingly higher migration rate from their home islands over time. We have seen that 30% of the 1978-83 graduates have moved to Moen, but the figure for the graduates of the 1960s and early 1970s stands at about 35%, and the rate for the earliest group is 37% (see Table 9). The same is true of those who have left Truk States. The figure of 7% for the latest group rises to 8% for the 1972-77 group, 11% for the 1966-71 group, 12% for the 1960-65 group, and 10% for the 1948-59 graduates. The mobility of graduates increases with their age, as better job openings become available to them on Moen and outside of Truk. We should also recall, however,that many of these earlier classes now have a much higher rate of college attendance than more recent classes as a result of the numbers who have attended the CCM-extension program in Truk for accreditation purposes (see Table 4).

Table 9: Present Residence of All Graduates by Period of Graduation

Graduation Year Home Is. Other in Truk Moen Out of Truk Unknown TOTAL
1978-83 498 (58) 21 (2) 254 (30) 63 (7) 16 (3) 852 (100)
1972-77 661 (51) 67 (5) 448 (35) 103 (8) 7 (1) 1286 (100)
1966-71 238 (48) 30 (6) 166 (34) 54 (11) 5 (1) 493 (100)
1960-65 47 (47) 1 (1) 35 (35) 12 (12) 5 (5) 100 (100)
1948-59 47 (45) 3 (3) 39 (37) 10 (10) 5 (5) 104 (100)
TOTAL 1491 122 (4) 942 (33) 242 (9) 38 (1) 2835 (100)

Figure in parenthesis represents percentage, with each line totaling 100%.

Overall, Trukese have been slower to move away from home than many observers might have imagined, given the condition of the village economies. A small majority (53%) of all graduates continue to live on their home island and another 4% live in a rural setting elsewhere in Truk (see Table 9). Nonetheless, the migration both within and out of Truk is of considerable proportions: a total of nearly 1200 graduates have either moved to Moen or left Truk altogether.

The Employment Picture Today

In recent years, as we have seen, well over half of the graduates have remained in Truk after high school to enter the labor force immediately after graduation. Almost two-thirds of those who did not go off to college have returned to their home islands, where an overwhelming majority of them (80%) are unemployed (see Table 10). Of the handful (1 8 in all) who went to live on other islands in Truk besides Moen, all are unemployed except one. Those without college who have moved to Moen, 164 young people or one-fourth of the total, have fared, much better in finding jobs, for slightly more than half of them have found employment there. The small percentage who have left Truk for other places have an employment rate of 23%, a rate that has probably been deflated because of under reporting (since it is illegal for Micronesians who have entered the US on a student visa to hold a job).

Table 10: Employment Status by Residence and Years Away for Graduates of 1978-83

College Home Is. Other in Truk Moen Out of Truk Unkown TOTAL
0 years            
Emp. 84 (20) 1 (6) 83 (51) 11 (23) 3 (20) 182 (27)
Unemp. 344 (80) 17 (94) 81 (49) 37 (77) 12 (80) 491 (73)
Total 428 (100) 18 (100) 164 (100) 48 (100) 15 (100) 673 (100)
1-2 yrs.            
Emp. 20 (47) 2 (67) 23 (47) 3 (75) 1 (100) 49 (49)
Unemp. 23 (53) 1 (33) 26 (53) 1 (25) 0 51 (51)
Total 43 (100) 3 (100) 49 (100) 4 (100) 1 (100) 100 (100)
3+ yrs.            
Emp. 8 (40) 0 17 (65) 4 (36) 0 29 (51)
Unemp. 12 (60) 0 9 (35) 7 (64) 0 28 (49)
Total 20 (100) 0 26 (100) 11 (100) 0 57 (100)
Emp. 5 (71) 0 7 (47) 0 0 12 (55)
Unemp. 2 (29) 0 8 (53) 0 0 10 (45)
Total 7 (100) 0 15 (100) 0 0 22 (100)
TOTAL 498 21 254 63 16 852

Figure in parenthesis represents percentage, with each line totaling 100%.

The 157 graduates from this period who have been away for some college and have returned to Truk show a substantially higher rate of employment, as might be expected. Of the 63 who have returned to their home islands 44% have found jobs, while of the 75 who took up residence on Moen 53% are now employed. About half of the 15 who have left Truk are now working full-time for a salary. In all, just about half of all the graduates who have been away for some college are now employed.

Overall, only about 35% of the graduates from the most recent period have found salary employment. Even if we allow for the comparatively lower employment rates among those who have been out of school only a short time, this figure is still very low. By way of contrast, the most recent group of graduates (1972-77) in the 1978 study showed an employment rate of 51 % at that time, even though the number of persons entering the labor force was roughly the same in both periods. The employment rate for earlier groups of graduates, as measured shortly after their graduation, was even higher, for graduates were fewer and new positions opening up as the government work force expanded year after year. That the situation today is far different from those years of unhindered growth is clear from Table 11, which shows a loss of nearly 1800 jobs in Truk between 1979 and 1982. This represents a loss of one-third of all jobs in Truk and was due in great measure to the termination of a plethora of Federal Programs, including CETA, one of the largest sources of employment during the mid70s. Although there are no exact figure for the employment levels in Truk today, it probably stands at about the same as 1982: 3700 jobs.

Table 11: Number of Micronesians Employed in Truk

  Gov't. Private TOTAL
1964 488 449 937
1967 694 849 1543
1970 1077 755 1832
1973 1356 1159 2515
1976 2148 1595 3743
1979 3470 2129 5599
1982 1883 1899 3782

Sources: Hezel, "Education Explosion," Table 9; Annual Reports to UN for 1981 ; TT Social Security Office, Saipan, and Department of Resources and Development Office, Truk.

In the past, graduates who have had trouble finding a job have tended to regard this as a temporary setback rather than the seal of doom for future employment prospects. They believed that if they were patient enough to endure a period of unemployment and persevere in their efforts at job-hunting, they would more likely than not find salaried employment within a few years. They might have to move to Moen to work, but most were happy enough to accept this as a condition for drawing a salary. What we know about earlier graduates and their rising employment rates with the passage of time tends to confirm these popular beliefs. Yet this is probably no longer so today. Among the graduates of 1972-77, for instance, 426 were unemployed in 1978; today there are 439 unemployed (see Table 12). The number of graduates from this period without jobs has actually risen slightly in the last six years, largely because of the return of over 400 young people who had been away in college. In effect, then, the economy of Truk has barely been able to absorb the large number of college returnees and could make no gains at all among the large number of unemployed graduates who had remained in Truk all the while. As a consequence, while the employment rate for this group of graduates rose from 51% to 66% between 1978 and 1984, there are even more unemployed than formerly from this group.

Table 12: Employment Status of 1972-77 Graduates in 1978 and 1984

Year Students Unknown In Labor Force Employed Unemployed
1978 578 71 871 445 (51) 426 (49)
1984 192 65 1263 824 (66) 439 (34)

Figure in parenthesis is percentage employed/unemployed.

The employment rate for graduates of all years is 61% surprisingly high when we consider the steep reduction in jobs during the past few years (see Table 13). That so many graduates found jobs since the late 1970s, when the ceiling was imposed on US annual subsidies and the drastic cutback in Federal Programs occurred, is one of the astonishing finds of this study. The present rate of employment for high school graduates is only a few percentage points down from the 66% that was recorded in 1978.7 But percentages do not tell the entire story. Today there are over a thousand unemployed graduates, double the 500 who were without jobs six years ago. In addition, there are another 500 young Trukese still in college who can be expected to enter the labor force within the next few years. Whatever else can be said of these young people, most of them clearly aspire to finding a job and earning a cash income like so many of those who have graduated before them.

Table 13: Employment by sex and sector for all graduates, 1948-83

  Male Female TOTAL
Unemployed 537 (30) 525 (49) 1062 (37)
Employed 1203 (68) 523 (49) 1726 (61)
Educ. [566] [186] [752]
Health [ 66] [ 44] [110]
Other Govt. [319] [ 96] [415]
Private [186] [172] [358]
Unknown 34 (2) 26 (2) 60 (2)
TOTAL 1774 (100) 1074 (100) 2848 (100)

Figures in parentheses are percentages. Each column totals 100%.

During the lean years since 1978 there have been about 700 graduates hired on by the government and private businesses; half of these found jobs in the Education Department, which has always been the largest single employer in Truk. The net number of yearly job openings, an average of 115 annually, is far smaller than the number of young Trukese who graduate in a single year. Hence, we can only expect the employment picture to become still more discouraging in the future. There is, of course, the possibility that with the onset of Free Association, which is expected within a year or so, the funds earmarked for development purposes might be diverted to create jobs to accommodate this continuing large influx into the labor market. But to do this may be to risk more important long-term economic gains for the sake of appeasing the desire for immediate access to cash income. Then, too, there is the possibility that Trukese graduates will leave in large numbers for other places (or remain there in the case of those who have already gone off to college) to find employment.

The Extent of the Brain-Drain

About 9% of all high school graduates now live outside of Truk, the recent survey shows (see Table 9). This figure, although not very large, may be one of the most significant findings of the survey, for it may mark the beginning of the long-anticipated "brain drain" from Truk. The 240 graduates who are now residing out of Truk represent a notable increase over the number (67) shown by the 1978 study, even if we suppose that the 1978 figure was an undercount.8

Educated Trukese have always gone abroad to take jobs for the Trust Territory government on Saipan when TT Headquarters was still a flourishing operation. Today many of these same people have found jobs with the FSM National Government on Ponape; most of the 86 Trukese now living on Ponape are either employed by the FSM government or have spouses who work for FSM (see Table 14). Neither these nor the few Trukese who continue to work in the skeletal TT Government on Saipan can be considered a part of any brain drain; they remain within the government employment system that binds Truk to other parts of Micronesia. This is not the case, however, with most of the graduates who are living in other places. There are 69 graduates not in studies residing in the US, another 22 in Guam, and eight in other parts of Micronesia (most of them in the Marshalls and Palau). In addition, there are 38 living on Saipan, most of whom are working not for the TT Government but in the private sector. Finally, there are a few sprinkled in such distant places as Canada, Japan, Fiji, Nauru and even Switzerland.

Table 14: Graduate Residing Outside of Truk and Not Attending College

  E U ? E U ? E U ? Total
Ponape 48 5 1 23 9 0 71 14 1 86
US 34 4 10 8 10 3 42 14 13 69
Saipan 22 2 0 8 4 2 30 6 2 38
Guam 11 1 4 2 3 1 13 4 5 22
Other 3 0 0 3 2 0 6 2 0 8
Micronesia 8 0 0 6 3 0 14 3 0 17
TOTAL 126 12 15 50 31 6 176 43 21 240

Unlike Palau, which has lost 200-300 of its population each year through the last decade.9 Truk has seen no appreciable emigration at any time during the past forty years of American administration. If an outward movement is discernible in this study, it is an entirely new phenomenon; none was evident in the 1978 survey of high school graduates. Because of the enormous consequences of this phenomenon, then, we would do well to analyze the data in greater detail so that we can determine just what trends are manifest in recent years.

The out-migration that occurs among the earliest graduates (those prior to 1972) can be explained rather simply: 41 of the 70 who left Truk went to Ponape or Saipan to work for the government, while another four were on study leave from their government jobs and were planning to return to Truk at the end of their leave. The remaining graduates, whom we might call genuine emigrants, were persons who in all but a few cases had married out of Truk and had chosen to live in or near the home of their spouse. This pattern, changes for later graduates, however. From the early 70s on, the number of those leaving for Ponape dropped to well below one-half of the total emigrants; on the other hand, increasingly more of the graduates took up residence in the US. This is understandable in view of the growing numbers of graduates who began attending American colleges in these years. Moreover, fewer of those who left went ostensibly for marital reasons. Most of the emigrants were young college students who simply decided to remain in the US, find a job and make their life there. The numbers of graduates who chose to leave Truk for further reaches than Ponape were never very large. They have amounted to a trickle rather than a torrent: about 15 a year during the early 70s and perhaps seven or so yearly during the latter half of the decade.

If we exclude those graduates who have left for Ponape, as well as the few who have government jobs on Saipan or the US, the total of emigrants who can be said to truly have struck out on their own comes to about 115. Their number is small when set against the total of young Trukese who have come through the high school system during these years, especially when we recall the dire predictions of an imminent brain drain that educators and social scientists have repeatedly uttered upon assessing the overburdened economy of Truk. Moreover, it is possible that even those who have left may decide to return sometime in the future since emigration need not be a life-long decision. The brain drain is real, but it is still not an overpowering cause of concern at present.

In view of the diminishing numbers of graduates leaving for US colleges in recent years, we might expect the emigration rate to slow down even more in the years ahead. Yet there remain troubling factors that cause some doubt. In the first place, in recent years several Trukese have moved to Saipan and Tinian, islands that they can legally enter as Trust Territory citizens in order to seek jobs there. The size of the Trukese community on each of these islands is estimated at over a hundred, many of them young people who have never graduated from high school. This gives rise to the speculation that when Free Association is inaugurated within the next year or two and Trukese have free access to the US for employment as well as for schooling, many unemployed Trukese will move to the US for the jobs that they cannot find in Truk. The counterweight to the search for employment has always been the Trukese fondness for the security of the kin group and familiar community, yet this has clearly not proved sufficiently strong to prevent the trickle of emigration that exists now. Whether the desire for salary employment will become great enough to increase the flow to more than a trickle is difficult to predict with certainty. It seems very likely, however.


The "education explosion" of the early 1970s was no hyperbole. The enormous increase of those attending school on both the secondary and tertiary levels struck Truk with the force and suddenness of an explosion. There was no question that the explosion, by virtue of its intensity alone, would have widespread effects on Trukese society; what remained to be seen was how damaging these effects would be. This present study has been, in part, an attempt to survey the aftermath of the education explosion of the early 70s, more by measuring the force of the blast and its subsequent shockwaves than by assessing its effects on the social milieu. There is a great deal that could be said about the social change that high school graduates and returning college students have helped to bring about with their backpacks, disco parties, fondness for basketball, American political ideals, dislike of nepotism in government, and much more; but this would demand another, fuller study than the present one.

Since 1976, the height of the education explosion, there has been a perceptible loss of interest in schooling on all levels. The average size of high school graduation classes has dropped by 11% from the mid-70s, and male enrollment has fallen off even more as female rates continue to rise. The rush to college abroad, which was at its peak in 1976, has also abated, with the rate falling from 65% of the graduating class to 44%. Moreover, those Trukese who go away to college have shifted towards schools that are closer to Truk, most likely for financial reasons. There is a clear movement towards Guam, which has lately become the favorite destination of the college-bound, and away from the US mainland. A small but growing number of graduates are beginning college right in Truk through the CCM and EOSC extension programs that are now in operation.

Graduates in most recent years, despite the intense competition for fewer jobs in Truk, behave very much like those graduates who preceded them. A large majority, especially of those who did not go on to college, returned to their home island; but those with some college showed a greater tendency to move from the village with its stagnant the state center for employment. All of this has been characteristic of graduates in former years as well. The employment rate of recent graduates has decreased, an inevitability given the drop in the total number of jobs in Truk since 1979. Older graduates, who were fortunate enough to find jobs shortly after graduation, are more find jobs shortly after graduation, are more secure in their positions than ever due to the college accreditation that they have completed. Meanwhile, the new job openings each year are barely enough for the 100-plus Trukese returning from college abroad each year. High school graduates who do not go on to college have increasingly less chance for employment. The number of unemployed graduates has doubled in the past six years to about a thousand.

The first evidence of a real brain drain, still rather small, has appeared only within the last few years. The percentage of graduates leaving Truk has doubled from 4% to 9% since 1978. In addition, the recent graduates who leave Truk are departing from the earlier pattern for emigrants: they are moving to Guam and the US rather than Ponape or Saipan; fewer are compelled to leave because of intercultural marriages than formerly; most are simply staying abroad at the end of their college. There are only slightly more than one hundred graduates who fall into this new pattern, so it is difficult to determine how widespread this will become in the future. The widespread this will become in the future. The results of the next study of high school graduates a few years from now should tell.


1. Francis X Hezel, "The Education Explosion in Truk," Pacific Studies, 2.2 (Spring 1979), 167-85. All page references hereafter will be to this publication. The article was also published in Micronesian Reporter, 16.4 (1 978), 24-33 ; and in Quarterly Bulletin of Statistics for the Trust Territory of the Pacific, 2.3 (September 1979), 1-9. The survey on which this article was based was directed by Lynn Ilon and conducted by Leather Muritok and Speeder Setile, two Xavier High School seniors at the time.

2. Hezel, "Education Explosion".

3. Risauo Samuel and Kenneth Urumolog, seniors at Xavier High School, did the laborious work of interviewing graduates and compiling the data. Bruce Larson, who was engaged in dissertation work of his own on a related topic, supervised them and generously shared data that he had gathered. The data was filed on computer by Elsa Veloso, who helped on several stages of the work, with the able assistance of Vincent DeCola, a member of the Xavier faculty. Lee Insko, currently heading the Eastern Oregon State College program in Truk, kindly provided us with the use of his computer.

4. Johnson Elimo et al, "Truk High School Graduates," an unpublished Town Study Project report done by five Xavier High School seniors in 1977. It should be noted, however, that several of the class of 1976 went to college subsequently to complete their accreditation for teaching posts and other positions.

5. Hezel, "Education Explosion," 180.

6. Hezel, "Education Explosion," 178.

7. Hezel, "Education Explosion," 182.

8. Hezel, "Education Explosion," 178.

9 Michael C. Johanek, "Palauan Out-migration," pre-publication draft of a paper written in August 1984.