Even in our nation’s Capital, you don’t need to look far to find association CEOs, top industry lobbyists, and respected journalists who were given an opportunity to succeed thanks to a Miss America scholarship. I plan to use mine to join them here in Washington after I complete my undergraduate and law degrees.

Not every graduating senior is so lucky. Secretary of Education Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanProviding the transparency parents deserve Everyone's talking about a national tutoring corps; here's what we need to know to do it well More than 200 Obama officials sign letter supporting Biden's stimulus plan MORE, who I will meet with this week, lamented last August that while a generation ago the United States had the highest college graduation rate in the world, today it ranks 12th among developed countries in the percentage of young adults with college degrees. By supporting scholarship programs through individual generosity and federal initiatives, Americans can help close the gap and lower costs for deserving students everywhere.

During this year’s State of the Union, President Obama renewed his pledge to improve our education system and help strengthen our nation's competitiveness. On February 24, he pledged a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. Those on the Republican side of the aisle who now lead work in the House are likewise committed. Speaker of the House John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Tax March - Biden to Putin: Tough sanctions, straight talk Boehner on Afghanistan: 'It's time to pull out the troops' MORE (R-Ohio) has made it clear he is serious about bipartisan education reform, touting innovative student scholarship programs right here in the District as a model for the rest of the country.

As Miss America 2011, I have a unique platform to join the chorus of voices from my generation who want to make America stronger through education. Help the Class of 2011 achieve our dreams, and I promise we won’t let you down.

Teresa Scanlan is the Miss America 2011.