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SWOT ANALYSIS: A MANAGEMENT
TOOL FOR INITIATING NEW
PROGRAMS IN VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS
John C. Dugger
Iowa State University
The SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)
analysis has been a useful tool for industry. This article proposes the
application of the SWOT tool for use as a decision-making aid as new
vocational programs are planned.
The process of utilizing the SWOT approach requires an internal
survey of strengths and weaknesses of the program and an external
survey of threats and opportunities. Structured internal and external
examinations are unique in the world of curriculum planning and
Educational examples using the SWOT analysis are provided by the
authors. It is a useful way of e xamining current environmnetal
conditions around program offerings. An insight into the wide range of
the potential applications of SWOT is also an intended outcome of this
SWOT ANALYSIS: A MANAGEMENT TOOL FOR INITIATING
NEW PROGRAMS IN VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS
The external environment has a profound impact on educational
institutions. During this final decade of the twentieth century, America's
institutions, economy, society, political structures, and even individual
lifestyles are poised for new changes. Recent shifts from an industrial to
an information-based society and from a manufacturing to a service-
oriented economy has significantly impacted the demands made on
vocational program offerings (Martin, 1989). Vocational programs in
comprehensive schools generally cover a broad spectrum of service areas,
but they provide fewer overall programs within each of these areas than
are provided in either vocational or specialty schools (Weber, 1989).
Existing programs, and those planned for the future irrespective of the
type of school, should be based on a careful consideration of future trends
Vocational administrators should become initiators in shaping the future
of their institutions. Strategies must be developed to ensure that
institutions will be responsible to the needs of the people in the year 2000
and beyond. To do so requires¾among other things¾an examination of
not only the individual college environment but also the external
environment (Brodhead, 1991). The Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities,
and Threats (SWOT) analysis (also referred to as the TOWS analysis in
some management texts), provides a framework for educational
administrators to focus better on serving the needs of their communities.
Although originally intended for use in business applications, the idea of
using this tool in educational settings is not altogether new. For example,
Gorski (1991) suggested this approach to increase minority enrollment in
community and other regional colleges. Management tools originally
intended for industry can frequently be tailored for application in
education due to fundamental similarities in the administrative duties of
the respective chief executive officers.
SWOT is a simple, easy to understand technique. It can be used in
formulating strategies and policies for the administrator, however, it is by
no means an end in itself. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how
SWOT can be used by administrators to analyze and initiate new program
offerings in vocational education.
SWOT IN THE PRESENT CONTEXT
SWOT analysis can be simply understood as the examination of an
organization's internal strengths and weaknesses, and its environments,
opportunities, and threats. It is a general tool designed to be used in the
preliminary stages of decision- making and as a precursor to strategic
planning in various kinds of applications (Johnson et al., 1989; Bartol et
al., 1991). When correctly applied, it is possible for a vocational school to
get an overall picture of its present situation in relation to its community,
other colleges, and the industries its students will enter. An understanding
of the external factors, (comprised of threats and opportunities), coupled
with an internal examination of strengths and weaknesses assists in
forming a vision of the future. Such foresight would translate to initiating
competent programs or replacing redundant, irrelevant programs with
innovative and relevant ones.
The first step in a SWOT analysis is to make a worksheet by drawing a
cross, creating four sectors¾one each for strengths, weaknesses,
opportunities, and threats. An outline of a worksheet is shown in Figure 1.
The next step is to list specific items related to the problem at hand, under
the appropriate heading in the worksheet. It is best to limit the list to 10 or
fewer points per heading and to avo id over- generalizations (Johnson et al.,
Potential Internal Strengths Potential Internal Weaknesses
Potential External Opportunities Potential External Threats
Figure 1. A SWOT worksheet
SWOTs can be performed by the individual administrator or in groups.
Group techniques are particularly effective in providing structure,
objectivity, clarity and focus to discussions about strategy which might
otherwise tend to wander or else be strongly influenced by politics and
personalities (Glass, 1991). Sabie (1991) noted that when working in
groups in educational settings, three distinct attitudes emerge among
teachers depending on their years of service. Teachers having 0-6 years of
experience tend to be the most participative and receptive to new ideas.
The SWOT should cover all of the following areas, each of which may be
a source of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats:
Internal environment of the institution
1. faculty and staff
2. classrooms, laboratories and facilities (the learning environment)
3. current students
4. operating budget
5. various committees
6. research programs
External environment of the institution
1. prospective employers of graduates
2. parents and families of students
3. competing colleges
4. preparatory high schools
5. population demographics
6. funding agencies
THE INTERNAL SURVEY OF WEAKNESSES AND STRENGTHS
Historically, administrators seek to attract students to their college
programs by increased promotional and advertisement efforts without
paying any heed to their institution's strengths and weaknesses. If, indeed,
such internal audits are carried out, areas requiring some changes reveal
themselves. Furthermore, the potential and possibilities for new services
and programs may also emerge. Making a list of internal weaknesses
could reveal areas that can be changed to improve the college, also some
things that are beyond control. Examples of inherent weaknesses are quite
numerous. A few are listed as follows: low staff and faculty morale; poor
building infrastructure; sub-standard laboratory and workshop facilities;
scarce instructional resources; and even the location of the institution
within the community.
Seldom do weaknesses occur in isolation; strengths are present and need
to be enlisted as well. Examples of potential strengths could be: (a) a
reasonable tuition fee charged from students; (b) strong and dedicated
faculty with a high morale; (c) articulation with other four-year colleges
and universities which would enable students to transfer course credits; (d)
a strong reputation for providing the training required to get entry-level
employment; and (e) diversity among the student population.
Minority enrollment and retention is a particularly important emerging
issue because vocational schools have a mission to education people from
all sectors of society (Gorski, 1991). Demographic projections have
predicted a two- to four- fold accelerated growth of Hispanic and Afro-
American population relative to the white majority, and this will be
reflected in the number of job seekers (Crispell, 1990).
The assessment of strengths and weaknesses are also facilitated through
surveys, focus groups, interviews with current and past students, and other
knowledgeable sources. Once weaknesses and strengths are delineated, it
would be appropriate to reconfirm these items. It should be recognized
that different perceptions may exist depending on the representative group
consulted. Figure 2 depicts an example using a SWOT analysis.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION : Consider a community technical college that is
planning to add some new programs. Assume that, during previous brainstorming
sessions, several ideas emerged and a program in laser technology is being
strongly contemplated by the department chair and other faculty. The department
or the chair and a select group of faculty could meet and conduct a SWOT
analysis to help develop a strategy. The following points may appear on the
Potential Internal Strengths
Potential Internal Weaknesses
1) Existing electronics and electrical
programs could provide some basics 1) Current faculty are not well versed in
required for a laser technology
2) Faculty who are enthusiastic and
willing to go the extra mile to
2) Lack of sufficient space for the required
acquire knowledge and training in
3) Sufficient funds to invest in high 3) Current safety features are not adequate
for handling potential hazards such as lasers.
4) Successful experiences in the
4) A faction in the faculty want a program in
past with new, dynamic programs,
microprocessor technology rather than in
thus, expertise in dealing with
Potential External Opportunities
Potential External Threats
1) Local area hospitals, metal
1) The technical college in a nearby county
industries and communication
has already taken a lead and possesses the
companies suffer from a critical
infrastructure to start a laser technology
shortage of laser technologists.
program any time soon.
2) State and nation-wide demand
2) Programming many not get approval from
for laser technologists is projected
the board because of previous history of
to increase for the next 10 years.
accidents of the college.
3) Some efficient and cheaper alternatives to
3) Local high school teachers' and
laser devices are appearing in recent
students' enthusiasm for the
literature which, if true, will not hold a
proposed program could result in
bright future for prospective laser
recruiting the best students.
4) Expert laser technologists in area 4) High school students in the area indicate a
hospitals and industries have
preference for business programs rather than
offered to give their expertise on a
Figure 2. Sample SWOT analysis used to consider the feasibility of
initiating a laser technology program
EXTERNAL SURVEY OF THREATS AND OPPORTUNITIES
The external look is complementary to the internal self- study in a SWOT
analysis. National and regional influences¾as well state and local
concerns¾are of paramount importance when deciding what new
programs need to be added or which existing ones need to be modified or
removed. Gilley et al. (1986) identified ten fundamentals of institutions
that are "on-the- move", one of which is the ability of institutions to
maintain a close watch on their communities. Not only must
administrators keep an eye on the community, but they must also play a
leadership role by addressing relevant issues.
Information about the current bus iness climate, demographic changes, and
employment and high school graduation rates should be considered in this
phase of the study. A multitude of sources include¾but are not limited
to¾parents and community leaders, local newspapers, national news
magazines, higher education journals, conferences, the local industrial
advisory council, and local business contacts. Each of these is a potential
source of highly valuable information.
Threats need to be ascertained. They come in various forms. Increasingly,
restrictive budgets for vocational education are a rule rather than an
exception. An anticipated cut in state or federal funding can have a
significant impact on implementing a high-budget program. Nearby
universities and other local area colleges may be planning some new
changes to attract more students to their programs. In addition, a
decreasing number of high school graduates in the region and surrounding
areas may pose a considerable threat by way of reduced student demand
for some planned programs.
An awareness of demographic changes in the local population can reveal
potential opportunities to address new issues and pave the way for a more
meaningful education. There could exist a pattern of preferences among
the various minority or cultural groups. Public concern for the global
environment is relatively new and this may represent an area of
opportunity. Newer industries or businesses could emerge in the near
future, seeking well-trained graduates.
It should be recognized that opportunities and threats are not absolute.
What might at first seem to be an opportunity, may not emerge as such
when considered against the resources of the organization or the
expectations of society. The greatest challenge in the SWOT method could
probably be to make a correct judgment that would benefit both the
institution and the community.
DRAWBACKS OF SWOT
SWOTs usually reflect a person's existing position and viewpoint, which
can be misused to justify a previously decided course of action rather than
used as a means to open up new possibilities. It is important to note that
sometimes threats can also be viewed as opportunities, depending on the
people or groups involved. There is a saying, "A pessimist is a person who
sees a calamity in an opportunity, and an optimist is one who sees an
opportunity in a calamity." In the example provided in Figure 2, the
opportunity provided by experts in industry to train students may be
viewed by faculty members as a threat to their own position and job.
SWOTs can allow institutions to take a lazy course and look for 'fit' rather
than to 'stretch'¾they look for strengths that match opportunities yet
ignore the opportunities they do not feel they can use to their advantage. A
more active approach would be to involve identifying the most attractive
opportunities and then plan to stretch the college to meet these
opportunities. This would make strategy a challenge to the institution
rather than a fit between its existing strengths and the opportunities it
chooses to develop (Glass, 1991).
A SWOT analysis can be an excellent, fast tool for exploring the
possibilities for initiating new programs in the vocational school. It can
also be used for decision making within departments and committees or
even by individuals. A SWOT analysis looks at future possibilities for the
institution through a systematic approach of introspection into both
positive and negative concerns. It is a relatively simple way of
communicating ideas, policies, and concerns to others. It can help
administrators to quickly expand their vision. Probably the strongest
message from a SWOT analysis is that, whatever course of action is
decided, decision making should contain each of the following elements:
building on Strengths, minimizing Weaknesses, seizing Opportunities, and
In order to be most effectively used, a SWOT analysis needs to be
flexible. Situations change with the passage of time and an updated
analysis should be made frequently. SWOT is neither cumbersome nor
time-consuming and is effective because of its simplicity. Used creatively,
SWOT can form a foundation upon which to construct numerous strategic
plans for the vocational school.
Bartol, K. M., & Martin, D. C. (1991). Management. New York: McGraw
Broadhead, C. W. (1991). Image 2000: A vision for vocational education.
To look good, we've got to be good. Vocational Education Journal, 66(1),
Crispell, D. (1990). Workers in 2000. American Demographics, 12(3), 36-
Gilley, J. W., Fulmer, K. A., & Reithlingschoefer, S. J. (1986). Searching
for academic excellence: Twenty colleges and universities on the move
and their leaders. New York: ACE/Macmillan.
Glass, N. M. (1991). Pro-active management: How to improve your
management performance. East Brunswick, NJ: Nichols Publishing.
Gorski, S. E. (1991). The SWOT team - Focusing on minorities.
Community, Technical, and Junior College Journal, 61(3), 30-33.
Johnson, G., Scholes, K., & Sexty, R. W. (1989). Exploring strategic
management. Scarborough, Ontario: Prentice Hall.
Martin, W. R. (1989). Handbook on marketing vocational education.
Westerville: Ohio State Council on Vocational Education.
Sabie, A. (1991). The industrial arts/technology education: A supervisor's
perspective. The Technology Teacher, 51(2), 13-14.
Weber, J. M. (1989). Variations in selected characteristics across three
types of high schools that offer vocational programs. Journal of Industrial
Teacher Education, 26(4), 5-37
NEIGHBORHOOD VALUE ANALYSIS
Understand the essentials of a neighborhood.
Discuss the neighborhood life cycle.
Know how neighborhoods are delineated.
Appreciated the nature of neighborhood characteristics.
Recognize amenities that enhance the appeal of neighborhoods.
Know major attributes of commercial and industrial districts.
A neighborhood is a bounded area wherein certain land use
activities are attracted and retained by sets of linkages.
Linkages define a neighborhood and hold it together.
A link may be economic, like a machine shop that
subcontracts for another nearby business.
A link could be social, perhaps tied to a school.
Links could be religious or ethnic.
A neighborhood in Argentina is organized around a sports
franchise. All the homes are painted in the team colors, blue
The neighborhood age cycle a valua tion
Just as a building has a life cycle, so does a neighborhood.
As we review the life cycle of a neighborhood, remember that the
time frame for each period will vary for reasons including, but not
Original building quality
The underlying social fabric
The soundness of the local economy.
Development period, 20 years.
Maturity, 20-25 years. Property values peak.
Decline, 25-40 years. Property values begin to fall.
Transition to lower economic inhabitants, 45-80 years.
Families from lower income groups start moving into
Eventually the lower income groups dominate the
Period of blight, 80-100 years.
The process of lower income groups "infiltrating" and
"overtaking" the neighborhood is repeated.
Gentrification. Occasionally, blighted neighborhoods
with architecturally appealing homes are purchased
and restored by individuals from higher income
Location within the city
Nature of terrain
Nature and load-bearing capacity of soil
Features of natural beauty
Street pattern and street improvements
Type of architecture and quality of housing
Nature, frequency, and cost of public transportation (not too
important here, but in cities like Washington DC, New York,
and San Francisco, it is important)
Proximity to schools, stores and recreational facilities
Freedom from environmental hazards.
Income and education of residents
Living habits and care of homes
Attitude toward law and government
Homogeneity of cultural and civic interests
Age grouping and size of families
Percentage of neighborhood that is developed.
Percentage of homes occupied by the owner.
Professional or occupational means of earning a living and
income stability (notice that this is highly correlated with item
1 under population.
Taxation and assessment levels, and the tax burden.
Zoning and deed restrictions.
Investment quality of area for VA, FHA, and institutional
mortgage loan financing.
Price range and rental value of neighborhood homes.
It is important for an appraiser to know the boundaries because it
helps refine the search for comparable properties.
makes it possible to determine the condition of the
makes it possible to determine the highest and best use of
How are the boundaries of a neighborhood determined?
Physical barriers such as rivers, lakes, and mountains, as
well as made made features such as highways and