President Obama reiterated his commitment to improving American higher education in a speech at the University of Texas Monday.

Stressing the link between students' educational achievement and national competitiveness, Obama outlined a set of objectives he said would allow America to "lead the global economy in this century, as we did the last."

"Our competition [internationally] is growing fiercer," he said. "And while our ultimate success has and always will depend on … the ingenuity of American business and the power of our markets, we … must do what it takes to make sure America remains number one."

The specific aims, which include affordable tuition and a simplified financial aid process, could help the U.S. increase its total number of college graduates — a metric in which it now ranks 12th worldwide — to roughly 60 percent of people ages 25 to 34.

Echoing his July 29 education address to the National Urban League, Obama also said that educational attainment was a "prerequisite for prosperity."

"It [education] may be the economic issue of our time," he said. "It's an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who've never gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have … when nearly eight in ten new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education [degree] by the end of this decade."

Obama noted his administration's overhaul of the federal student loan program in March.

"Under the old system, we'd pay banks and financial companies billions of dollars in subsidies to act as middlemen," he said. "But this year we said, enough is enough. … As a result, instead of handing over $60 billion in unwarranted subsidies to big banks and financial institutions … we're redirecting that money to make college more affordable."

The reform package expanded the Pell grants and allocated $2 billion to community colleges to create career-adjustment programs for displaced workers.

Urging his audience to embrace the "promise … at the heart of our colleges and universities," Obama called the value of education an "essential truth" of the American experience.

"It’s what led our parents and grandparents to put a generation of returning GIs through college, and open the doors of our schools and universities to people of all races, broadening opportunity, growing our middle class, and producing a half century of prosperity," he said.