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U.S. Virgin Islands

Official Country Name: Virgin Islands of the United States
Region: Puerto Rico & Lesser Antilles
Population: 120,917
Language(s): English, Spanish, Creole
Literacy Rate: 90%

An unincorporated territory of the United States since 1917, when it was bought from Denmark to help protect Panama Canal shipping lanes, the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is an Americanized locale east of Puerto Rico comprising 3 principal islands and 65 smaller ones. Its 110,000 inhabitants, mainly English speakers of African descent, are 90 percent literate. Spanish, used by some 14,000 residents, is a secondary language. Education is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 5.5 and 16.

Modeled on U.S. patterns, the USVI's public education system operates in English and follows accrediting procedures of U.S. public schools and universities. Administered by the Department of the Interior, the territory spends 7.5 percent of its GNP on education. (U.S. taxes that are paid locally stay in the islands.) Public schools in this dependent economy benefit from the spectrum of federal entitlements and initiatives including Head Start, nutrition programs, and Upward Bound.

In 1997, the USVI public system comprised more than 40 schools, with 11 of them (including 3 vocational schools enrolling almost 1000 students) at the junior or senior high school level. Total enrollment was 15,835 pupils for K-8 and 6,301 pupils for grades 9-12. Of the more than 3,000 school staff members, about 50 percent were classroom teachers. The student-teacher ratio was 14:2 overall, but doubly higher in the vocational-technical schools. Public adult education and company programs have also helped train workers for jobs in a service economy that focuses on tourism.

During the 1990s, approximately 40 private schools, both parochial and nonsectarian, enrolled 6000-7000 pre-college students annually, thus complementing the public system.

At the college level, the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) is a public, co-ed, historically black, land-grant institution offering associate, bachelors, and masters degrees on two campuses. In 1997 UVI registered 2,610 students—up from 757 in 1987. The school sponsors research, service, and outreach programs. It also offers citizens of the neighboring (and culturally interlinked) British Virgin Islands their closest senior college opportunities. In the 1990s, about 18 percent of USVI residents older than 25 had some form of postsecondary education.


Peterson's Register of Higher Education, 1995: The Sourcebook for Higher Education, 8th ed. Princeton, NJ: Peterson's 1995.

Tuller, Lawrence W. Doing Business in Latin America and the Caribbean. New York: American Mgmt. Assoc., 1993.

The University of the Virgin Islands, 17 January 2001. Available from http://www.uvi.edu/pub-relations/uvi/home.html.

U.S. Department of Education. Digest of Education Statistics. National Center for Education Studies, 1999.

The World Almanac and Book of Facts, Mahwah, NJ: World Almanac Books, 2001.

—Roy Neil Graves

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