It's a modern version of the quest for "gold, God and glory" that drove explorers overseas in centuries past. For the last decade, American college presidents have been obsessed with expanding abroad -- looking to tap new markets, spread the gospel of American higher education and leave a glamorous global legacy.
But like most empire-builders, they've found the reality on the ground more challenging than expected.
High-profile and expensive failures of Middle East branch campuses run by Michigan State and George Mason were a wake-up call. Suffolk University recently closed a campus in Senegal after concluding it would be cheaper just to bring the students to Boston. The University of Connecticut dropped plans for a campus in Dubai amid criticism of the United Arab Emirates' policies toward Israel. Plans for a University of Montana campus in China never panned out, and Singapore's government shut down a Johns Hopkins University biomedical research center.
Even elite schools still pushing forward, like Duke, Yale and New York University, have faced resistance from faculty concerned about finances, quality and whether host countries like China, Singapore and the UAE will uphold academic freedom.