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SWOT Analysis - Part 1

SWOT Analysis - Part 1

June 12, 2012

If you've been following this blog, you know that I've been promising a "SWOT analysis" in regard to our strategic planning questions and answers.  This type of analysis is quite common in the business world, but it is also commonly used in strategic planning by governmental and charitable organizations.  The letters S-W-O-T stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  The first two of these-strengths and weaknesses-can be viewed as internal traits of an organization.  Generally these are organizational features over which the organization has a measure of control.  The second two traits-opportunities and threats-can be viewed as external, and typically include events or circumstances over which the organization may have little or no control.  Opportunities and threats may arise unexpectedly and without warning.

The best managed organizations are constantly engaged in various forms of SWOT-related activities, even when these activities are called by other names.  For example, the typical exercise of evaluating employees on an annual basis is one way in which an organization can assess internal strengths and weaknesses relating to its personnel.  Similarly in the world of higher education, the periodic reviews performed by regional and national accrediting boards accomplish an excellent review of a university's internal strengths and weaknesses. 

A good SWOT analysis matches an assessment of these two internal components with the external components-the organization's opportunities and threats-in a manner aimed at maximizing strategic effectiveness.  For example, if our SWOT analysis tells me that we have an internal weakness in the same area where we expect a major external threat to occur, I am on notice that we have a vulnerability that needs to be addressed.  Similarly, if our SWOT analysis tells me that we have an internal strength in the same area where we expect a major external opportunity to occur, I am on notice that we should be making specific plans to seize that opportunity when it occurs.

Here at McNeese, we have used four of our 14 brainstorming questions to assist us in our SWOT analysis:
S = Question 3-Whether you love it or not, what do you believe is McNeese's greatest strength?
W = Question 4-What is McNeese's most glaring area for improvement?
O = Question 5-What opportunities should McNeese seize within the next five years?
T = Question 7-What threats should McNeese be guarding against over the next five years?
After removing duplications and reviewing the hundreds of remaining unduplicated responses to these four questions, our Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Dr. Tom Dvorske, provided me with a 17-page list of thematic nodes and references.  After a careful review of his list, I was able to distill the thematic nodes and references into the following summary:
McNeese's Strengths
Participants in nearly every brainstorming session-regardless of whether the groups were predominantly made up of faculty, staff, students, alumni, community leaders, donors, or athletics stakeholders-mentioned the McNeese motto as a major strength.  It became clear to me very quickly that "Excellence with a Personal Touch" is a motto that needs to remain in place.  Other frequently mentioned strengths included a number of our academic programs, the availability of personal faculty-student interaction (a variation of "Excellence with a Personal Touch"), and a number of regional advantages, including strong relationships with local industry, the unique Southwest Louisiana culture, and the McNeese impact on K-12 education and local healthcare institutions.
McNeese's Weaknesses
When it came to a discussion of weaknesses, issues of facility maintenance and parking were usually mentioned first, followed closely by problems relating to the need to overcome a decades-old reputation of being merely a stepchild to Louisiana's flagship institution.  Although you pointed to facts that clearly establish McNeese's role as a regional leader in preparing students in such areas as pre-medicine (with extremely high acceptance rates of McNeese graduates to schools of medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry), nursing, teacher education, industrial engineering, accounting, and other notable programs, you also expressed the concern that many taxpayers were unaware of McNeese's generational transformation in that regard.  Another frequently mentioned set of weaknesses related to limitations in the physical boundaries of the campus.
McNeese's Opportunities
You identified a number of interesting opportunities likely to come our way over the next five years.  Many of these related to enrollment and academic methodologies; for example, expanding online programs (especially graduate programs) and out-of-state recruiting, use of the SEED Center as a focal point to expand innovative teaching methods and industry partnerships, and increasing cooperative relationships with SOWELA and other institutions of higher education.  Some of you mentioned the potential for additional student services, such as child care, additional housing, and community service opportunities.  Image-related possibilities were also mentioned.  These related to the need for new marketing initiatives, image branding, and public relations.
Threats likely to face McNeese
The threats most often mentioned were related to reductions in state funding and potential effects these could have on academic programs and standards.  Competition from other institutions-including competition from other online programs-was also mentioned frequently as a threat that McNeese will need to address.  Closely tied to these potential threats were potential declines in enrollment relating to increasing tuition and reduced student services.
In Part 2 of our SWOT analysis, I plan to take a deeper look into these findings with a more specific focus on what they may suggest for the next five years here at McNeese.  Following Part 2 of the SWOT analysis, I hope to present you with a variety of related analyses leading up to the preparation of drafts of a vision statement, a set of goals, and a set of objectives for McNeese with associated timelines.