University of Phoenix Highlights Student Achievements in Ad Effort


The University of Phoenix has introduced a campaign to combat public criticism of online education. Created by 180LA, the “We Rise” campaign sets to prove that online schools should not be regarded as diploma mills.

This is the first effort the university has made to polish its image and to highlight the pride of its students. A great majority of Phoenix students are working adults and busy parents trying to balance between work, home, and university.

Launched shortly after the announcement that the university’s parent company, Apollo Education Group, will be purchased by a private equity company, the campaign changed the University of Phoenix’s emphasis from enrollment to retention. The deal is valued at $1.1 billion.

Chris Mendola, 180LA’s founder, commented that he wanted to show the determination of the average student while trying to get a degree, going to work and raising a family. The idea behind “We Rise” came from the strong determination Mendola saw in the student body and alumni, writes Creativity Online. Natasha Madov of AdAge writes that University of Phoenix’s marketing officer added the alumni are extremely proud of their academic accomplishments.

The main TV spot is inspired by the real life of the students - military veterans, working mothers, farmers, waitresses, etc. — who are pursuing a degree while working and taking care of their families. One of the ads addresses students’ future employers with a repurposed version of the “Wizard of Oz” tune “If I Only Had a Brain”, implying they will hire UoP alumni if they have a brain.

As Gabriel Beltrone of Adweek writes, the University of Phoenix is trying to recover from recent financial and legal struggles, with the institution under widespread scrutiny for its business practices. As a result, the financial revenues sharply declined, and in 2015, Apollo Education lost nearly 80 percent of its market value. The student body dramatically decreased to 200,000, less than a half of its peak number in 2010.

Beltrone opined that the ad did not manage to polish completely the image of the University. He also pointed out that it was too anxious and defensive, especially the final lyrics: “A degree is a degree/You’re going to want someone like me/But only if you have a brain.”

It recently came to light that some of the University’s admissions officers misled prospective students about the similarities and differences between several degrees and what job offers they could expect upon graduation. But according to Joan Blackwood, UoP’s chief marketing officer, the advertisements were not created to take on critics. She said that prospective students were more interested in the quality of education and how it would help them achieve their goals, writes Ashely A. Smith of the Inside Hire Ed.

Greg Cappelli, the CEO of Apollo Education Group, commented:

“We believe these initiatives, along with our campus realignment and other actions we’ve taken previously will form the foundation for a stronger university with higher completion rates and improved student satisfaction.”