The rise of the global university is often associated with the concomitant wave of late twentieth-century neoliberalism and privatization and correlated with universities embracing "corporate" models of governance. However, it is a phenomenon with roots in the earliest years of the Cold War that emerged out of a set of institutions and policies with diplomatic rather than explicitly economic aims. Notable among these were the programs aimed at bringing foreign students and scholars to the United States and exporting American-style educational experiences abroad. While only a fraction of these foreign visitors had the US government as their primary financial sponsor, they as a class became the object onto which political values of a particular era were projected, from the postwar internationalism of the Truman years to the Great Society liberalism of Lyndon B. Johnson to the free market ethos of Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan. The decentralized and privatized means by which policy makers administered these measures obscured the degree to which they influenced the shape of the higher education system and their wider impacts on the American economy and society. This article explores international educational exchange as a critical element of American universities' evolving public identity during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods and as an example of the governmental use of the university as an agent of state power and as a tool of political ideology.