U.S. business schools are revamping curriculum so students understand what makes the world go 'round.

When Al Niemi opened The Wall Street Journal that morning, he knew the news wouldn't be all bad. "I was confident we'd be in the top 25," says Niemi, dean of the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "So I suppose you can say I was mildly surprised - and quite pleased to be there."

"There" was this year's ranking of U.S. business schools, which rated SMU - regarded as little more than a regional program as late as the mid-1990s - as the ninth best in the country. And the muscle that allowed it to elbow into the MBA elite with schools like Harvard University and The Wharton School was its American Airlines Global Leadership Program, in which every MBA student spends a year studying a continent, and then two weeks overseas observing how business works in those countries.

Cox is not alone in its international focus. These kinds of global programs are changing the face of business schools, as more of them - twice as many as 10 years ago, by one count - add to or replace the traditional MBA curriculum, even opening foreign campuses and partnering with schools overseas.

"The most salient question our students were asking us was, 'What can you give me that will give me a competitive edge?'" says Dan Nagy, the associate dean for MBA programs at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, which offers two cutting-edge international degree plans. "They know their companies are doing business globally. They want to learn what that means. So we designed programs for them to do that."