"The U.S. degrees are powerful, but having that additional degree makes me a lot more competitive," he says. Valenta also found time to intern with the Georgia Tech Research Institute in Athlone, Ireland, in the summer of 2009. He then spent the 2009-10 academic year at Polytechnic and worked on his thesis the following summer at the Technical University of Munich.
[Learn why earning a degree abroad is a cost-effective alternative.]
In a 2008 survey, the Council of Graduate Schools found that, among respondents, roughly one quarter of U.S. engineering programs, 15 percent of physical and social sciences programs, and less than 10 percent of humanities and life science programs partnered with international institutions to offer collaborative degrees, certificates, or other joint initiatives. Such relationships are less prevalent at the doctoral level, the group noted.
"The American academic community needs to embrace this," says IIE's Blumenthal, who contends that study abroad programs are essential if U.S. students are to remain competitive with their global peers. Among the biggest stumbling blocks, she says, are faculty members who count on the availability of graduate students to assist them with research.
To help address this problem, some institutions are encouraging faculty members to expand their own international experience through a variety of mechanisms, including Fulbright Scholar grants or campus-supported initiatives that promote collaborative research projects with colleagues abroad.
Another obstacle to broader participation is cost. However, students can find help to cover the expense of overseas study from a variety of sources, including the federally supported David L. Boren and Fulbright fellowships, as well as privately funded programs. Many of these can be found in the IIE's directory at www.studyabroadfunding.org. Some U.S. schools even offer direct financial support.
[Get tips on paying for graduate school.]
Some students may be wary of surmounting a language barrier, but those who have never learned a second tongue needn't despair, Blumenthal says. Countries like France, Germany, and China, among others, actively recruit American graduate students and offer programs in English to attract them. Not only do the U.S. students provide a welcome source of revenue, they also add prestige to their host institutions.
Searching for a grad school? Get our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.