The Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the terrorist group Boko Haram one year ago “should have been college students,” not captives, said U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Catherine Russell in the Huffington Post.

“In far too many places, being a school girl is dangerous business,” where the girls face threats of violence on their way to and from school, or during breaks, if in fact they can attend school at all, Russell said.

Approximately 62 million girls around the world — half of them adolescents — do not attend school. Education would not only benefit them with better wages and the chance of a better life, but would help their families and communities as well.

The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that a country’s gross domestic product increases an average of 3 percent when 10 percent more girls go to school. Each year of secondary school boosts a girl’s future earning power by roughly 20 percent. According to economist Lawrence Summers, “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest return investment available in the developing world.”

Ambassador Russell said the many benefits that come from educating girls inspired the Let Girls Learn initiative, launched by President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on March 3.

“It’s a signal to the world that the United States is committed to adolescent girls and their education, and to seeing their lives and opportunities change for the better,” she said.