02/07/2011 07:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

State Capitals Campaign

In his State of the Union address last month, President Obama proclaimed that by the end of this decade America will once again be the global leader in college graduates. The president framed the issue as essential to our economic future. He called on parents, educators and elected officials to bring higher education within reach of every American. And he declared this a once in a generation moment that could define our country's course for the next half-century.

The president is absolutely right, and the College Board is committed to achieving his vision for America. Yet considering that the U.S. currently ranks 12th in the world in degrees among 25-34 year olds, it's fair to say that we have a steep hill to climb.

To raise awareness of this vital mission, the College Board has organized the College Completion Agenda: State Capitals Campaign, which kicked off in Maryland this week with Gov. Martin O'Malley, State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nancy Grasmick, and University of Maryland Chancellor Brit Kirwin, and will travel across the country to places like Florida, New Mexico, California and Hawaii.

The State Capitals campaign is an extension of the College Board's 55 by 25 effort, which aims to ensure that at least 55 percent of young Americans earn a college degree by 2025.

Furthermore, it will serve as a call to action that brings together policy makers, educators, community and business leaders, students and concerned citizens to advance the completion agenda and return America to its place as the global leader in educational attainment. Only together will we be able to achieve 55 by 25, and we will begin our coordinated effort today, state by state, district by district.

As President Obama recognized, this effort is critical to the health of our economy and the future of our country.

In the 21st century's global economy, it is not just education, but postsecondary education that is required to compete and succeed. A college education has taken on the same importance that a high school education had in the past.

That is why it is critical that all high school students -- regardless of race, background or means -- have the opportunity to continue their studies and earn a college degree or certificate.

With the economy increasingly dependent on highly educated workers, education, now more than ever, is a crucial link between personal well-being and national strength.

Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming evidence demonstrating the importance of education, too many young Americans are opting out of college. Some feel it's not worth their time. Some feel it's not worth their money. Some just feel they aren't college material.

The 2010 College Completion Agenda, an annual report produced by the College Board that tracks our progress and issues recommendations for improvement, found that only 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 hold an associate's degree or higher. When you look at just the states, no single state can claim that 55 percent of its citizens measure up to this bar.

There's a breakdown in our system. There's a whole group of students who we haven't reached. There's a whole generation that's at risk of falling behind, and of becoming the first generation to be less educated than their parents.

But this is only the first of twelve rounds. The fight is far from over. We will convince these students that mediocrity is not their destiny, and it certainly is not our nation's. This is a once in a generation moment. And if we seize it, we will write a new American maxim for a new American century: education for opportunity, and opportunity for all.