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According to Fred Fransen, philanthropists need to be a little more selfish.

Sometimes characterized as having a lot of money to throw around and little clue how to best use it, alumni and other university donors are being courted by Fransen's new Center for Excellence in Higher Education.

Created last month, the CEHE strives to provide guidance for donors so they can make sure their investments in higher education are put to the best use possible.

The organization mainly advises donors so that their money is accompanied by a specific grant agreement that includes measurable goals and a reasonable time frame during which the gift should be spent.

For Fransen, who serves as the CEHE's executive director, the idea is to hold universities accountable for the money they receive.

"We believe that trustees ought to be more actively involved in setting the educational agenda of universities," he said.

At Penn, officials say they ensure that there is a certain level of transparency when it comes to large donations.

Donors are required to attach gift agreements for all donations over $25,000.

Some experts in higher education, including John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, do not see any major problem in the current system of giving gifts to universities.

According to Lippincott, 90 percent of all donations are already restricted in some way. The continuing growth of donations - up nearly 10 percent in 2006 to $28 billion nationwide - is also evidence that most donors feel comfortable with how universities handle their money.

But Fransen said he hopes to see donations used in a more efficient manner so American universities can remain competitive.

According to rankings compiled by the Times of London, only 35 of the top 100 universities in the world are located in the United States.

"The world competition in higher education is going to get much more intense," Fransen said, noting that there is a major effort in Asia, and especially China, to surpass American colleges.

"We're only doing OK now, and if we want to continue doing that well we need to put a lot more effort into improving the productivity of our education system," he said.

In addition to offering free guidance to donors, the CEHE plans on creating several mutual funds dedicated to reforming certain aspects of higher education, such as research or financial aid programs. Universities will then have to compete to be the recipients of money from these funds.

"We think donors ought to want more than they ask for," Fransen said.

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