Chapman Gets Disney-fied Chapman has implemented a series of marketing strategies that push the university towards corporatization

Chapman Gets Disney-fied Chapman has implemented a series of marketing strategies that push the university towards corporatization

You can see it in the architecture, posted on the bathroom stalls, and splashed online: “The Chapman Brand.”

Chapman and other universities are plowing money into branding projects and marketing strategies to build their reputations and identities in an effort to lure more students into applying to their schools – and to enroll once admitted.  Chapman’s aspirational happy-talk message (“bold!” “extraordinary!” “limitless!”) and commercial collaborations occur against a backdrop of an annual four percent tuition increases for students who are already chafing over the rising costs of housing. Students and professors are questioning the choice to spend so much on a marketing campaign in hopes of reducing the acceptance rate and raising Chapman in college rankings.

Chapman partnered with the Disney Institute two years ago to create “The Chapman Experience” campaign. Chapman’s Strategic Marketing and Communications (SMC) department is working with Ologie, a branding and marketing company, to create a master brand for Chapman. SMC restructured its 30-person team and implemented  guidelines for departments to follow that match the brand identity Ologie helped build. The projects build an aspriational image of Chapman that’s imprinted on potential students, alumni, investors, stockholders and donors.

“The higher-education landscape today operates like a marketplace in which institutions compete to convince the best students to buy their product,” said Alia Wong, an author who specializes in education.

Chapman partnered with the Disney Institute for a three-year project aiming “to improve the Chapman experience,” according to a report by the Dean of the School of Communications Lisa Sparks.

How much does it cost to Disneyfy Chapman? That’s anyone’s guess. Harold Hewitt, the executive vice president and chief operating officer, declined to comment on how much was spent in Chapman’s partnership with the Disney Institute, which advertises itself as a company that has “helped numerous businesses in all sorts of industries enhance their customer experience,” according to the Disney website.

Research conducted by the Disney Institute outlined ways the university could improve. The analysis concluded that Chapman has fallen short in “external marketing efforts to achieve anything imaginable.” The research recommended a re-branding of online portals and streamlining communication through multiple mediums.

Ologie is working with SMC to make that happen by asking Chapman staff to observe conformity in all communications.

The guidelines SMC implemented address a series of specific qualities –  color palette, tone of voice and email signatures – for staff and faculty to use when marketing or talking about the university. The goal is to ensure all content conforms to the look, message and voice to best tell Chapman’s “story,” according to the Chapman website.

The guidelines aren’t just for the website, either.

Promotional content for any school, college, department, program or organization that receives operating revenue from Chapman must be requested online, through SMC, where templates that cohere with the brand are provided for project use, according to the Chapman website.

While the brand unifies all departments of the university, it takes away from any sense of personalization. You can “be anything imaginable,” except, perhaps, different.

“My colleagues and I wanted to change the art history website, make it more creative and maybe show off some work to illuminate what we do and what we’re about,” said art history professor Amy Buono. “It’s disappointing that we can’t customize anything because we’re constrained to a desired look.”

Chapman’s request for branding services was released in 2016, and Ologie was hired in 2017 to design the brand rollout, according to the Vice President of SMC, Jamie Ceman.

Ologie has been hired by Carnegie Mellon University, Smithsonian, Bucknell University and Northwestern University, according to Ologie’s website, and was part of a $1.5 billion comprehensive campaign with the University of Arizona.

Jamie Ceman, the vice president of SMC, not only declined to reveal how much money Chapman University spent funding the project but deleted this question in her emailed interview.

While the Chapman campaign was implemented to “[grow] a reputation for Chapman that better reflects the academic quality, comprehensive academic offerings and growing research agenda of the institution,” Ceman wrote. Branding and campaigns in higher education are typically focused on recruiting students and raising money, according to Ologie.

Regardless of how much is being poured into these projects, some students and professors think areas of the university that are not heavily advertised could benefit from more funding.

“Chapman is so concerned about making the school look a certain way, spending millions of dollars on beautiful buildings, like the Keck center,” said Prabnoor Kaur, a junior art history major. “There are so many other areas that need improvement that are given no attention.”  

The humanities departments are often neglected and forgotten about, said Kaur.

With the expansion of academic facilities, plant assets grew from $908,506 to $1,141,228 in the 2017-2018 academic year, according to data provided to Prowl News by Mike Price, the assistant vice president of finance and budget. Yet, the older buildings remain outdated and untouched.

Chapman’s campus in 1962 when it was Chapman College. Photo courtesy of Chapman’s Digital Commons..

“Our faculty offices don’t even have windows, I’ve never had an office that doesn’t have that,” said Buono, whose office is in Moulton.

More recent buildings, such as the Leatherby Library built in 2003 and Oliphant Hall built in 2004, are built with a specialized brick blend, commonly referred to as “Chapman Brick,” which is purchased from Interstate Brick in Utah. The corresponding brick creates a unified feeling on campus and is a unique look that brands Chapman’s physical location.

A blend of desert sand and park rose brick is used for buildings across campus. Photo from Interstate Bricks website.

Chapman isn’t the only university funneling funds into marketing projects

Many universities are hiring marketing professionals from the corporate world and investing a significant amount of time and money to build brands, according to a 2014 study by Hanover Research.

The goal is not just to lure prospective students, but prospective donors.

“Educational institutions are busily striving to profit from teaching, research and all the other activities on campus—offering corporations the right to endow professorships, sponsor courses, bring the university’s scientific discoveries to market, even advertise in campus bathrooms,” former Harvard President, Derek Bok, wrote in his book “Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education.”

Seventy-six percent of academic institutions have implemented brand strategy projects and more than half reported spending more than $100,000, 31 percent spent more than $200,000, according to a 2015 survey of 125 private four-year institutions by mStoner.

Increase in advertising expenditures by sector from 2013 to 2016. Image from the Educational Marketing Group.

Increase in advertising expenditures by sector from 2013 to 2016. Image from the Educational Marketing Group.

Private non-profit institutions increased their ad budgets by almost 40 percent between 2013 and 2016. Most of the bump went to online marketing, according to the Educational Marketing Group (EMG). One factor considered to contribute to increased investment in advertising is the spike in cost of attending college education, according to EMG.

The average price cost of attendance at four-year private university has increased more than $7,000-from $27,520 to $34,740-in the past 10 years, according to College Board.

Chapman’s tuition was $50,210 for the 2017-2018 academic year and has been increasing at a steady four percent rate each year, according to  Chapman’s website.

Tuition and student fees made up 74 percent of Chapman’s total revenue, totaling $285.5 million, in the 2017-2018 year, according to data provided by Price to Prowl News.

Chapman justifies the high tuition price by bragging it gives out a lot of  financial aid; 83 percent of students receive at least some financial aid.  However, some argue that the amounts are inadequate for the ballooning tuition – and that corporate goals can play a bigger factor than student need.

“Financial aid used to be a charitable act, just given to needy kids, kids who needed it the most,” Wong said. “Now, we said, ‘We can use financial aid to serve strategic institutional interests, such as improving our rank, our status, and our prestige.’”

In other words, money is being allocated to students who don’t necessarily need it.

At Chapman, 33 percent of students come from families earning salaries in the top five percent of US income, and 47 percent of students come from families in the top 10 percent, according to a 2017 study by Opportunity Insights.

Rank is another factor pushing marketing efforts.

“Rankings of business schools have effects on admissions, placement, hiring and giving more than any other single variable,” said Colin Jevons, an associate business professor at Monash University.

Chapman shows-off national rankings on the universities website. Image from Chapman’s website.

It’s essential that institution rankings are backed up by facts, data and irrefutable evidence: accreditations, applicant data (number and quality), recruitment of professors, placement of graduates, agreements with prestigious partners and media presence, said Jevons.

“Educational institutions are busily striving to profit from teaching, research and all the other activities on campus—offering corporations the right to endow professorships, sponsor courses, bring the university’s scientific discoveries to market, even advertise in campus bathrooms,” former Harvard President, Derek Bok, wrote in his book “Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education.”

“Anything that demonstrates the quality, as the excellence of the institution helps craft and strengthens its brand,” Jevons said.


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