Radha Balamuralikrishna
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 development.

Educational examples using the SWOT analysis are provided by the authors. It is a useful way of examining 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 paper.


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 in society.

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 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 avoid over-generalizations (Johnson et al., 1989).





Potential Internal Strengths Potential Internal Weaknesses
1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.



Potential External Opportunities Potential External Threats
1. 1.
2. 2.
3. 3.
4. 4.

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


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 worksheet.
Potential Internal Strengths Potential Internal Weaknesses
1) Existing electronics and electrical programs could provide some basics required for a laser technology program. 1) Current faculty are not well versed in laser technology.
2) Faculty who are enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile to acquire knowledge and training in lasers. 2) Lack of sufficient space for the required extra equipment.
3) Sufficient funds to invest in high technology programs. 3) Current safety features are not adequate for handling potential hazards such as lasers.
4) Successful experiences in the past with new, dynamic programs, thus, expertise in dealing with change. 4) A faction in the faculty want a program in microprocessor technology rather than in laser technology.
Potential External Opportunities Potential External Threats
1) Local area hospitals, metal industries and communication companies suffer from a critical shortage of laser technologists. 1) The technical college in a nearby county has already taken a lead and possesses the infrastructure to start a laser technology program any time soon.
2) State and nation-wide demand for laser technologists is projected to increase for the next 10 years. 2) Programming many not get approval from the board because of previous history of accidents of the college.
3) Local high school teachers' and students' enthusiasm for the proposed program could result in recruiting the best students. 3) Some efficient and cheaper alternatives to laser devices are appearing in recent literature which, if true, will not hold a bright future for prospective laser technologists.
4) Expert laser technologists in area hospitals and industries have offered to give their expertise on a part-time basis. 4) High school students in the area indicate a preference for business programs rather than technical ones.

Figure 2. Sample SWOT analysis used to consider the feasibility of initiating a laser technology program


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 business 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.


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 counteracting Threats.

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 Hill, Inc.

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), 22-25.

Crispell, D. (1990). Workers in 2000. American Demographics, 12(3), 36-40.

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.



Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats - SWOT Analysis


What makes a successful plan is a procedure that facilitates the organization and evaluation of relative information. SWOT is a system for developing a comprehensive analysis without the need for high priced talent or computers - though these items can be used in a SWOT Analysis to develop a very sophisticated program.  The major mistake made in a SWOT is in trying to make only one SWOT - often times only multiple, interrelated SWOTs can actually solve a firms problems or give rise to a comprehensive business evaluation.


We have found that the major benefits of SWOT is Simplicity, Lower Costs, Flexibility, Integration, and

Collaboration. The ability to tailor SWOT to the firm and the capabilities of the firm’s staff is the greatest strength of the technique.

Besides the special materials prepared for this how to program, we recommend a specific text that is used by one of our members in the marketing management M.B.A. course that he instructs. This is a professional level resource that many students and clients have found to be an invaluable resource.

This program will allow you to produce a SWOT Analysis of your business which will become the keystone for any development of or change to your marketing plan - both strategic and operational. You will be exposed to the SWOT Matrix and more than ten key issues each for the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats for your firm.

We will show you how to determine external and internal sources of competitive advantage based on the SWOT Analysis. We give you a check list of Core Competencies and Attitudes and how these can identified in your SWOT and how they can be leveraged into competitive strengths.

SWOT Analysis - will work for every firm and every skill level. If you are tired of guessing or not having a direction for either your firm, employees, or outside suppliers then SWOT is for you.


Example Student Marketing Strategy Report

SWOT Analysis




















A distinctive competence? No clear strategic direction?
Adequate financial resources? A deteriorating competitive position?
Good contacts/relations with clients? Subpar profitability because...?
Good competitive skills? Lack of managerial depth and talent?
Special expertise? Missing any key skills or competencies?
An acknowledged market leader? Poor track record in implementing strategy?
Well-conceived functional area strategies? Plagued with internal operating problems?
Innovative programs/services? Vulnerable to competitive pressures?
Good overall reputation? Too narrow a service line?
Access to economies of scale? Weak market image?
Insulated ( at least somewhat ) from strong competitive pressures? Competitive disadvantages?
Cost advantages? Below-average marketing skills?
Competitive advantages? Unable to finance needed changes in strategy?
Proven management? Other?










Serve additional customer groups? Likely entry of new competitors?
Enter new markets or segments? Slow market growth?
Expand service line to meet broader range of client needs? Adverse government policies?
Diversify into related services? Growing competitive pressures?
Complacency among rival firms? Vulnerability to recession and business cycle?
Fast market growth? Growing bargaining power of clients?
Weak competitors? Changing client needs and tastes?
Lack of dominant competitor? Adverse demographic changes?
Other? Other?


Using a SWOT Analysis in Your Career Planning


by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. and Katharine Hansen

A key tool in the strategic planning process can also be applied to career planning. This tool is a marketing analysis using the SWOT technique. A SWOT analysis focuses on the internal and external environments, examining strengths and weaknesses in the internal environment and opportunities and threats in the external environment. Imagine your SWOT analysis to be structured like the table below:

SWOT Analysis






in Your Career Field

in Your Career Field

To construct your own SWOT analysis to set a course for your career planning, examine your current situation. What are your strengths and weaknesses? How can you capitalize on your strengths and overcome your weaknesses? What are the external opportunities and threats in your chosen career field?  










Internal positive aspects that are under control and upon which you may capitalize in planning

·Work Experience

·Education, including value-added features

·Strong technical knowledge within your field (e.g. hardware, software, programming languages)

·Specific transferable skills (e.g., communication, teamwork, leadership skills

·Personal characteristics (e.g., strong work ethic, self-discipline, ability to work under pressure, creativity, optimism, or a high level of energy

·Good contacts/successful networking

·Interaction with professional organizations


Internal negative aspects that are under your control and that you may plan to improve

·Lack of Work Experience

·Low GPA, wrong major

·Lack of goals, lack of self-knowledge, lack of specific job knowledge

·Weak technical knowledge

·Weak skills (leadership, interpersonal, communication, teamwork)

·Weak job-hunting skills

·Negative personal characteristics (e.g., poor work ethic, lack of discipline, lack of motivation, indecisiveness, shyness, too emotional










Positive external conditions that you do not control but of which you can plan to take advantage

·Positive trends in your field that will create more jobs (e.g., growth, globalization, technological advances)

·Opportunities you could have in the field by enhancing your education

·Field is particularly in need of your set of skills

·Opportunities you could have through greater self-knowledge, more specific job goals

·Opportunities for advancement in your field

·Opportunities for professional development in your field

·Career path you’ve chosen provides unique opportunities      


·Strong network


Negative external conditions that you do not control but the effect of which you may be able to lessen

·Negative trends in your field that diminish jobs (downsizing, obsolescence)

·Competition from your cohort of college graduates

·Competitors with superior skills, experience, knowledge

·Competitors with better job-hunting skills than you

·Competitors who went to schools with better reputations.

·Obstacles in your way (e.g., lack of the advanced education/training you need to take advantage of opportunities)

·Limited advancement in your field, advancement is cut-throat and competitive

·Limited professional development in your field, so it’s hard to stay marketable

·  Companies are not hiring people with your major/degree

To further refine your list of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, you may also want to ask yourself some critical questions adapted in part from an article by Dave Jensen, managing director of Search Masters International.

Explore your own self-perception of your strengths, but also put yourself inside a prospective employer's head as you consider your strong points. Avoid false modesty, but also be brutally honest and realistic with yourself. Start out by simply making a list of words that describe you; chances are many of these characteristics comprise your strengths.

One of your greatest strengths can be loving the work you do. Learning to "follow your bliss" should be a critical component of managing your career. Some people know from an early age what kind of work will make them happy. For others, nailing down the self-knowledge that leads to career fulfillment comes from a process of exploring interests, skills, personality, learning style, and values. Take a look at some career assessment and exploration tools, such as those described in Step 1 of The Quintessential Careers Guide to Job-Hunting on the Internet. Take one or more of the tests and react to the results. Do the results match your general plans and expectations?

In assessing your weaknesses, think about what prospective employers might consider to be the areas you could improve upon. Facing your frailties now can give you a huge head start in career planning. 

As humans, we find it relatively difficult to identify the areas where we are weak. But this assessment helps to identify areas where we may need to improve. If you identify a skill that you know is in your chosen field, but you are weak in that skill area, you need to take steps to improve that skill. Past performance appraisals and even your grades and teacher comments from school provide valuable feedback.

For a good collection of sites on the Internet that enable you to research the trends that will tell you more about external opportunities and threats in your chosen field, go to Step 2 of The Quintessential Careers Guide to Job-Hunting on the internet. Particularly helpful are "Jobs in Business" at Ohio State University (limited selection of jobs) and the Occupational Outlook Handbook. It's also helpful to visit online databases (often available through library Web sites), such as ABI/INFORM, Business News Bank, and Lexis/Nexis and conduct a search of "hiring trends in ______" or "employment trends in ______," filling in the blank with your career field. 

Don't forget print resources, such as newspapers, periodicals, and trade publications. Check out job postings on the Internet to get a feel for the relative number of openings in your field. If you are a college student, check out your school's Career Services office for information on file on opportunities and threats in your field. 

From this analysis, you will have a road map that shows you how to capitalize on your strengths and minimize or eliminate your weaknesses. You should then use this map to take advantage of opportunities and avoid or lessen threats.

After you've analyzed your strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities, you should use that information to plan how to market yourself. 

The marketing planning process entails a three-step process:

1.determining objectives.

2.developing marketing strategies.

3.strategizing an action program. 

Objectives—define your career objectives. What is your ideal job upon graduation (or the job you would like to transition to from your current job)? What are some other positions you could accept? What is your five-year career goal? 

Marketing Strategies—a broad marketing strategy or “game plan” for attaining your objectives. What are the companies and organizations you’re going to target to obtain your objectives—your ideal job? How will you communicate with these firms? The strategies you identify should utilize all of the resources available to you, such as your personal network and a partnership with a mentor. 

Action Programs—according to marketing principles, marketing strategies should be turned into specific action programs that answer a number of questions, including: What will be done? When will it be done? Who is responsible for doing it? Your key task here is setting specific timetables and deadlines for getting the career and company information you identified in the marketing strategy step. 


SWOT Analysis

What is it?

You can use a SWOT analysis to identify and analyze the Strengths and Weaknesses of your organization, as well as the Opportunities and Threats revealed by the information you have gathered on the external environment.

Who uses it?

The team members, the managers.

Why use it?

To develop a plan that takes into consideration many different internal and external factors, and maximizes the potential of the strengths and opportunities while minimizing the impact of the weaknesses and threats.

When to use it?

While developing a strategic plan or planning a solution to a problem, after you have analyzed the external environment (for example, the culture, economy, health, sources of funding, demographics, etc.).

How to use it:

  1. Internal Analysis: Examine the capabilities of your organization. This can be done by analyzing your organization's strengths and weaknesses. Click here for some examples of management areas you may want to consider during this analysis.
  2. External Analysis: Look at the main points in the environmental analysis, and identify those points that pose opportunities for your organization, and those that pose threats or obstacles to performance.

If you need additional information, you can find out what your users think by using a user survey or a tally sheet.

Decide whether the answers or the data collected reveal external opportunities or threats.

  1. Enter the information you have collected in steps one and two into a table as illustrated below:
INTERNAL Strengths Weaknesses
EXTERNAL Opportunities Threats

4.      You can use this information to help you develop a strategy that uses the strengths and opportunities to reduce the weaknesses and threats, and to achieve the objectives of your organization.


SWOT Analysis - Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats

SWOT Analysis is an effective method of identifying your Strengths and Weaknesses, and to examine the Opportunities and Threats you face. Often carrying out an analysis using the SWOT framework will be enough to reveal changes which can be usefully made.

To carry out a SWOT Analysis write down answers to the following questions:

Consider this from your own point of view and from the point of view of the people you deal with. Don't be modest, be realistic. If you are having any difficulty with this, try writing down a list of your characteristics. Some of these will hopefully be strengths!

Again this should be considered from an internal and external basis - do other people perceive weaknesses that you don't see? Do your competitors do any better? It is best to be realistic now, and face any unpleasant truths as soon as possible.

Useful opportunities can come from such things as:

Carrying out this analysis is will often be illuminating - both in terms of pointing out what needs to be done, and in putting problems into perspective.