Cox's approach had its genesis in a trip Niemi took when he ran the business school at the University of Georgia in 1984. He spent two weeks in Japan, talking to business officials and visiting factories and offices. "It was a life-changing experience," he says. "It woke me up to the biggest weakness of U.S. MBA programs, which is they weren't global."

Once the franchise of a select group including Thunderbird and the French INSEAD, global programs have flourished since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A newly open Eastern Europe and Asia created demand for executives who knew how to exploit those markets.

"There has been a profound acceptance of capitalism," says Dave Wilson of the Graduate Management Admission Council, which oversees business school testing. "And where else are you going to learn about capitalism than in a business school?"

MBA schools have set up a variety of programs. At Cox, for example, a compulsory two-week study trip is the centerpiece of a year-long course focused on a student's choice of regions: Asia, Latin America, or Europe. Other approaches include:

Executive programs, usually with a strong Internet component. Midcareer employees can keep working, take virtual classes when they're at home, and visit their school's U.S. or foreign campuses a half dozen times over the two-year program. One example: As much as 60 percent of classwork for executive MBA students at Duke's Fuqua School is conducted online.

Alliances. U.S. colleges have put together joint degree programs with foreign business schools. Columbia Business School offers a dual-degree program with London Business School, for example, and Wharton has a joint venture with France's INSEAD.

Foreign campuses. The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business has campuses in Barcelona and Singapore. Even less well-known schools, like St. Louis' Webster University (in six cities in Europe and Asia), are starting programs.