Staff Perspective: Building a Transfer Community at City Colleges


I have always believed that education is the key to growth of the middle class, a way out of poverty and the development of a just society.

I am a first-generation student who had a terrible transfer experience before the term “transfer student” was understood the way that it is today. I lost 90% of my credit because of switching majors and switching institutions (ouch!).

I know what it means to be an immigrant to a new country, seeking to understand its culture and my place in it, while also striving towards the dream of obtaining the career that fulfills self and sustains my family.

This is why I am so passionate about transfer services at City Colleges of Chicago. It’s not just about a metric of success for us as an institution (which is important), but it goes beyond that, into the development of an equitable education experience that is especially focused on ensuring students of color find a place of belonging (without barriers) where they find their place to contribute to the betterment of Chicago.

Doing Better: Creating a Transfer Framework for City Colleges of Chicago
In March 2021, the Transfer Framework was launched. City Colleges has a 50% transfer rate for our graduates, so we are doing well, right? Yes! But I always believe that we can do better. The Community College Research Center has identified that 80% of Community College students want to transfer, but only 25% do. And even worse, only 17% of those students actually complete the bachelor’s degree. Our overall rates are not much different as a district and we continue to see lower success rates for our Latinx and Black students than their Asian or White counterparts. This is why a framework for transfer needed to be developed. Transfer is a social justice issue and it is imperative that we take this work to the next level.

Partners Are Key
The framework at CCC involves increased collaboration between CCC and our university partners. It’s about taking the time to increase connections between faculty who can discuss their curriculum and programs with the purpose of ensuring stronger alignment and preparation. It’s about creating spaces of belonging at CCC and the 4-year partner so the student already feels like a student of the 4-year institution before transferring. It’s about improving communications within our system and recognizing the spaces where we are all responsible for a successful transfer experience for our students. It’s about having the honest conversations within our walls and with our external partners about the barriers we create through policy and practice and making the brave decisions to change them for the benefit of the student.

Helping Our Students Succeed, Reaching Our Goals
Since its launch, there has been a lot of work to move towards achieving the goals of the framework. We have developed a partnership application process that helps us determine whether or not a partnership is in the best interest of CCC as an organization and the students we serve. We have set in place a partnership evaluation process that helps us to understand the efficacy of our university partnerships and we are meeting regularly with our key transfer partners in order to improve programming and increasing student connectedness to people at the 4-year institution as part of their transfer experience.

Help Us Build a Transfer Community
This year, we are launching a Transfer Advocacy Learning Community to bring together all members of the City Colleges community who believes in the importance of transfer success for our students. If you are an administrator, faculty member, college advisor, or any member of the CCC staff community, you are welcome to join us.

Our first session will be National Transfer Student Week, where we will have Drew Koch, CEO of the Gardener Institute, share his thoughts and prompt us to think more deeply about transfer as a social justice imperative.

Welcome to the transfer nation, a place that is driven to create a more just and equitable academic experience for our students!

Shelley Lemons is the Executive Director-Student Transitions in the Office of Student Experience. Shelley strives to support others in becoming transfer change agents on their campuses. She has been described as a passionate, data-driven, and consistently student-oriented person. One example of her drive and vision is the creation of an innovative district-wide transfer framework that has shaped the strategic direction of Transfer Services and Programs.

Lemons has twenty years’ experience in the non-profit industry, including ten years of higher education work with City Colleges of Chicago (CCC). She began as the Director for the Transfer Center at Truman College and is now Executive Director of the Office of Student Transitions, overseeing the Transfer Centers and Career Centers for CCC. Shelley’s colleagues describe how “her transfer framework is rooted in corrective and restorative justice.” Another colleague shared that her work shows how transfer can serve as a conduit to fight national social justice issues. Shelley is a true transfer advocate with the ability to elevate student voices in the transfer process. She has worked tirelessly to create a culture of transfer at CCC, inspiring transformative and collaborative transfer services. Shelley was the 2022 recipient of the Bonita C. Davis Transfer Champion Award through the National Institute on the Study of Transfer Students (NISTS).