The SWOT analysis is a valuable tool that is oftentimes misunderstood and poorly designed, which can lead to missed opportunities.
The most common misunderstanding is that this is something that the marketing department addresses – but in fact, this analysis is an institution-wide endeavor because, over time, everyone in the institution should turn to these factors to guide them in taking actions necessary to achieving institutional goals and objectives.
Other common mistakes include:
- Too long of a list
- Listing internal factors that are not owned/controlled by the institution
- Listing vague external factors
- Too ‘optimistic’
A useful SWOT analysis will focus on the top two or three factors in each area. The reason for this is that you want to focus on your best strengths and opportunities, most glaring weaknesses, and most possible threats. A longer list can cause distraction, a lack of focus that leads to less than optimal results.
When identifying strengths and weaknesses, remember that there is a difference between ‘outcomes’ and actual ‘internal factors’. For example, “brand awareness” is an outcome, so you want to dig deeper to identify real and unique internal factors that created “brand awareness”. This could be “partnership programs” that are unique to your institution – such as the University of Maryland Global Campus’ Cyber Security Program Designation.
Another example is “poor awareness” as a weakness. You need to dig deeper and ask what internal factors caused this to occur? Lack of promotional budget to build awareness? Lack of a consistent and clear message causing confusion in the market? Ineffective public relations?
Examples of External Factors
Next, vague external factors and overly optimistic external factors are common shortcomings. To avoid this, I recommend you use the following questions to identify external factors for opportunities and weaknesses:
- Government/Law: What’s going on in local, state, the federal government that can help (opportunities) or hinders (threats) your institution’s ability to achieve its goals? This could include changes in accreditation or budgets/funding.
- Environment: Air and water quality? Waste management? Renewable energy? Endangered species? All of these factors and possibly others can impact facilities management, expansion, and potential new program offerings.
- Economy: How stable is the economy in your market? Is it growing or shrinking or flat? Why? Is disposable income in your target market growing or shrinking? Is the job market strong or weak? What education-levels are required for those jobs most in demand?
- Society: What is the population growth rate, demographic profile, and age profile in the geographic market you serve? What is the current level of education, health, and social mobility of the population? What are society’s attitudes towards higher education in the market you serve?
- Technology: What new technologies could you be using to better serve your key audiences – internal and external? What new technologies are being developed that could dramatically impact your institution’s ability to achieve its goals? How have infrastructure changes such as new reporting policies/requirements or remote working impacted performance?
- Competition: Who does your target audience view as your competition and why? What programs do they offer? Who do they serve (target audiences)? How do those programs compare with yours in terms of benefits, features, pricing, delivery (face-to-face, hybrid, online, other)? What are their unique strengths and weaknesses?
Remember that [ex] “opportunity to generate more enrollments” is not an external factor – it’s a desired outcome for the institution so it shouldn’t be listed as an opportunity.
However, a growing economy that is bringing new, large corporations into your market that are looking to hire people with electrical engineering degrees could be considered an opportunity if [a] you have a unique and valuable electrical engineering program, [b] the projected number of employees is deemed to be substantial.
On the other hand, if you lack a unique and valuable electrical engineering program (weakness), this projected growth (demand) could be a threat if it means that there will be a shift in program demand in your market from the programs you offer to programs you do not provide.
As you can see, a SWOT analysis requires research and analysis of data so unique strengths and weaknesses can be identified and that the external factors identified are real or probable.