In June 2007, USF established its first oversees bachelor’s degree program, partnering with the Center for American Education to educate students in Singapore. The decision USF made to take its education abroad is part of an increasing trend by American universities to expand academic influence beyond U.S. borders.

In many cases, valuable incentives are being offered to universities that expand overseas. The New York Times reported that when a businessman from the United Arab Emirates suggested to the president of New York University to open a campus in the UAE, the president asked for a donation of $50 million – which the businessman paid for. Now, NYU is planning on opening the satellite campus and will also be reimbursed financially to expand and replace the New York faculty they send to the Middle East.

Beyond business, cultural understanding and communication in an increasingly globalized world are critical for American institutions. These programs often help show the international community a different side of the United States.

“Higher education is the most important diplomatic asset we have. I believe these programs can actually reduce friction between countries and cultures,” Cornell University president David Skorton said to the Times.

These international educational experiences work both ways. The Confucius Institute here at USF – the first of its kind in Florida – provides an international outlook to students who may have lived their whole lives in the state. The experience is priceless.

At first glance, the international expansion of U.S. higher education seems to be an ideal situation for universities, the U.S. and the nations in which the satellites are opened. However, participating universities and students stateside should not confuse capitalist states with democratic ones just because these nations are open to capitalist ideals and procedures.

The Times details the struggles of professors who work for a branch of George Mason University in Ras al Khaimah in receiving student textbooks on time. The delay is primarily due to the censorship enforced by the local government. Others would be remiss to ignore that universities who are working in and with China are dealing with a government that required Google to censor search results pertaining to the country. There will be no open academic study or access to information on events such as the one that took place in Tiananmen Square.

While U.S. higher education may be a more successful tool to ‘spread democracy’ than military or direct action, institutions that start branches overseas must not compromise academic integrity for governmental or cultural decree.