US President Barack Obama urged Americans not to drop out of high school, saying the US workforce needed to become more competitive to confront the challenges of the future.
To restore the country's standing and secure its economic growth, Obama told Congress in his maiden speech that "a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity -- it is a pre-requisite."
He vowed to pump more funding into a major overhaul of the nation's education system, warning "we have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation."
But government reform of the education system would not be enough on its own, he said.
"It is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.
"And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country -- and this country needs and values the talents of every American."
Obama said that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations now needed young recruits to have at least a high school diploma.
But rankings by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, among other groups, consistently show US children trailing their counterparts in other industrialized nations in reading, mathematics and science.
One study in April by the EPE Research Center and the America's Promise Alliance said three out of 10 US teenagers do not graduate from high school -- with black and native American students doing worst of all.
Obama, who has gained widespread rock-star appeal among the nation's youth, laid out different options for them to complete and boost their educational level.
Kids could opt to do a year of community college, choose vocational training or seek an apprenticeship after they have completed their high school diplomas, Obama said.
"But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma."
The alternative would be "economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow," he warned.