Meet & Greet with Community Colleges’ Kevin Brockbank
~June 22nd, 2023
Kevin Brockbank took the helm as chancellor of Community Colleges of Spokane, on May 1, succeeding Christine Johnson who held the role for 12 years until her retirement in December 2022.
Brockbank, 51, grew up in Montana and received his bachelor’s and doctorate in education from the University of Montana. He began his career in higher education as a faculty member at Helena-College University, in Montana, and served several roles throughout his 17-year tenure there, including executive director of academic and workforce development and department chair of industrial trades. He is the former president of Spokane Community College, a position he held for six years.
As chancellor of the community college district that includes Spokane Community College and Spokane Falls Community College, Brockbank oversees a staff of 2,300 and student population of about 30,000 spread over six counties encompassing 12,000 square miles.
The Journal recently sat down with Brockbank to discuss his new role, what he hopes to achieve and what advice he has for others who want to achieve their goals.
How did you make your way to Spokane?
I was born and raised in Montana and lived there for just over 40 years. I moved away from Montana because I knew ultimately at that point that I wanted to be the CEO of a two-year college in Montana, but I had to go get some different experiences in order to come back and be that person. I went to Utah and worked at Salt Lake Community College for a few years, and then an opportunity opened here in Spokane.
I always loved Spokane. Both my sisters went to Gonzaga. I ended up taking a position here as the vice provost at the district level, and a couple of years later, I had the opportunity to step in as the acting president at Spokane Community College, which is a job I totally wanted and came here in pursuit of in the first place. I was there for six years, and now I’m in this position.
I never went back to Montana, and I never will. This, I assume, will be my final position. But you know, you can never predict how things happen in life. I got here, and I think I’m in a much better position than had I stayed in Montana.
What made you aspire to become a CEO of a two-year school?
That’s a very specific goal, right? No kid ever grows up saying they want to be a college president. It’s not on the typical list of writer, nurse, or doctor. You know, I started as a faculty member in computer technology. I was a full-time, tenured faculty for over 10 years, which I loved. Ultimately, I really loved the discipline of leadership and how being in leadership positions can influence, support, and enhance a lot of different things.
I think I’m a better administrator and leader. That’s just where my passion was.
I told my wife, maybe right before we were married or right after … I want to be president of a two-year college. She rolled her eyes at me like that’s not going to happen. So, I had to make it happen.
How does this role differentiate from the presidency?
One of our former chancellors, Gary Livingston, who was here for a long time and highly respected, said something to me the other day that I think was introspective: “The president spends 90% of their time on what’s happening today and 10% on the vision going forward. The chancellor spends 90% of their time on the vision going forward and 10% on daily activities.”
This position is all about driving the overall vision, culture, effectiveness, and efficiency of the entire district. It’s been an easy start for me because I’ve had eight years of watching the previous chancellor, and I know who all the people are internally and externally.
Is there anything from Christine Johnson’s legacy that you wish to continue?
Dr. Johnson was an amazing individual. She was a community leader and convener. Part of her legacy, too, was putting us in a great position going forward. I think the next three to five years for higher education are going to be incredibly formative as to what our relevancy is in the overall education market. Trying to make sure we are relevant in five years is going to require some challenging things. I think Dr. Johnson has put us in a strong position to be able to respond to that, both fiscally and culturally.
Currently, we have some urgency looking forward (regarding) how we can take the current CCS and mold it into what Spokane needs.
Why is there an urgency?
If you look around the education environment, it’s changing quickly.
The pandemic certainly changed who the prospective students are, what they are looking for, and what they are asking for. It’s part of the dynamic that is changing the workforce, which is pulling individuals into high hourly wage jobs versus going into education. How do we continue to be a good value and an attractive career-building option for prospective students?
We’re working in an environment where it’s not just Eastern Washington University, Gonzaga University, and Whitworth University. It’s also Google and LinkedIn and all these other places that are producing certificates. We have to be honest with ourselves about the fact that we have to continue to develop our product in a way that lowers the cost of attendance and reduces the time of completion for our students. That’s a critical piece for us going forward—that we look attractive to the students of today and tomorrow.
Is that part of the challenges you face?
We must be honest with ourselves about what this next generation of students wants, as well as the middle-aged returning adult. What higher education needs to be in five years is not the same as what it was five years ago.
We’re a huge institution—very unassuming and low key. Sometimes people will say, “You’re the best-kept secret.” We don’t want to be the best-kept secret. We will be going through a rebranding campaign starting this summer to make sure we are doing the right things to represent ourselves well in this community.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to get ahead in their career?
There is no perfect roadmap to be a college president. There is also no perfect roadmap to be a firefighter, or an accountant. Flexibility and being resilient is one of the greatest skillsets you can have. Don’t let things derail you along the way. You know where you want to be and what you what to do. Stay committed and consistent in what you’re doing, and you’ll get there. I could never have written the story that got me to this seat today. Nobody would believe it, and it’s one of those things that changes a little bit every month.
What are your goals for the next 10 to 15 years in this position?
When I walk away, I want to know that CCS is a great institution—that it’s a great place to work and a great place for our students to come and go to school and achieve their academic goals, and that it’s a great resource for the community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.