For teachers and admins at schools across America, electronic signatures are helping cut costs and combat the effects of inflation. At this critical time, when even daily supplies like paper and ink are taking a bigger-than-usual bite out of educators’ budgets, paperless signing workflows deliver cost-saving upgrades from traditional “wet” signatures — reducing turnaround time and enhancing regulatory compliance along the way.

Benefits like these make it easy to see why 33 percent of K-12 schools — and an even greater percentage of universities — are converting their paper forms to electronic equivalents. Although most educators cite “easier access to information” as the primary driver behind this evolution, economic impact also makes a powerful argument. Research shows that a school can save $3,000 or more for every “wet” signature they replace with a digital one, when factoring in related costs like copier ink, envelopes and postage.

In fact, Forrester’s 2023 report The Total Economic Impact of Adobe Acrobat Sign reveals that when organizations take time to select the most cost-effective electronic signature solution for their needs, they’re able to significantly reduce manual data-entry errors, save hundreds of thousands of hours of work every year, and reap a variety of interconnected financial benefits that deliver increasing return on investment (ROI) over time.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at four key benefits that an upgrade to e-signatures can deliver for your school. In each of these areas, we’ll examine specific use cases in which your institution can benefit by adopting digital signing technology, and provide tips for taking steps toward digital transformation on a day-to-day basis. Let’s dive in!

Benefit 1: Electronic signatures deliver dramatic savings on paper and other materials

Each “wet” paper-and-ink signature comes with an array of financial costs, some less obvious than others. For example, a paper form that’s distributed to thousands of students requires your school to pay not only for paper and printer/copier ink, but also for thousands of staples, envelopes, and stamps.

Digital forms, by contrast, can be emailed — or, even more efficiently, shared and reviewed in real time through collaboration apps like Adobe Acrobat Sign, which makes it easy to collect signatures within a PDF file itself. By removing physical steps from your signing processes, you’re also eliminating costly storage rooms and filing cabinets from your school’s document workflows — reducing each department’s physical footprint, and freeing up valuable space for more important tasks.

Factoring in all these costs, it becomes easier to see how a single “wet” signature replaced with a digital one can save your school $3,000 or more (as outlined in the intro above). In fact, after accounting for all expenses involved in printing and scanning, Forrester’s report finds that a school can save an average of $13.50 for each internal form they digitize, and $21.50 for each form they’d traditionally mail or ship.

Incremental improvements like these can add up to significant savings when multiplied across an entire department — and organizational leaders are taking notice. According to Forrester’s report, 63 percent of decision makers say “reduced physical paper usage and costs” inspired their switch to electronic signatures. As the numbers demonstrate, those smart decisions are already paying off.

Benefit 2: Going paperless significantly reduces turnaround times and data-entry errors

As dramatic as the physical costs of paper forms are, even these costs only represent one part of the economic equation. Paper signatures also have to be packed and shipped, or distributed by hand, requiring expensive labor. Then, once those forms make their way back to your department, someone has to examine them, check them for accuracy, and enter their info into a database. This is all costly and time-consuming — but with digital signing, it’s unnecessary.

Across your entire institution, digital forms can dramatically reduce the need for manual prep work such as printing, collating, and assembling document packages. Even for forms that only circulate internally, electronic signing greatly simplifies document management by keeping all docs in one place, eliminating data-entry errors, and saving staff members the headaches of copying documents and reading illegible handwriting.

For all these reasons, decision makers say e-signatures have increased the efficiency of their back-office processes by an average of 47 percent, freeing up workers for higher-value work, and enabling managers to allocate workloads much more efficiently. The workers are happier, too — in fact, a full 58 percent of survey respondents reported a 2-to-3-percent drop in employee churn after they adopted electronic signing practices.

Benefit 3: Digital signatures streamline and simplify privacy regulatory compliance

From the K-12 level all the way through higher education, educational administrators have to safeguard their students’ privacy, particularly when it comes to personally identifiable information (PII) like addresses and social security numbers. Schools spend millions of dollars every year to keep their information systems compliant with regulations set forth in 1974’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 1978’s Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), and related laws like 1998’s Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Given the complexity and costliness of complying with ever-evolving data privacy regulations, it’s understandable that 57 percent of Forrester’s survey respondents cite “improvements in privacy and data management” as key drivers behind their adoption of integrated digital document workflows. For example, by leveraging Acrobat’s best-in-class security and identity management services, admins can fight forgery by verifying signers’ identity in a fraction of the time required by traditional paper-and-ink-signatures — and with a much higher rate of accuracy, too.

As a result, survey respondents report a 25-percent decrease in time spent on regulatory compliance as a result of adopting e-signatures. These time savings translate into major cost savings when calculated in terms of staff compensation — and the economic benefits become even more apparent when factoring in the ongoing reduction in costs of reviewing and updating privacy compliance workflows.

Benefit 4: E-signing generates ROI that pays for the tech several times over

Online document signing workflows can deliver return on investment in a wide variety of surprising ways. For example, self-serve electronic forms reduce the number of calls you’ll receive from students and parents requesting documents. In addition, Forrester’s survey reports that digital signing processes deliver a 40-percent decrease in customer complaints related to form signing — while a full 85 percent report a reduction in data-entry errors. Improvements like these add up to a lot of freed staff time, which can be allocated more cost-effectively.

Even more excitingly, 85 percent of respondents say these improvements translate into enhanced customer experiences — which 43 percent say has increased their acquisition of new customers. In other words, if you follow the University of New Mexico (UNM)’s lead, and roll out automated e-signatures across your entire enrollment process, e-signing could actually increase your school’s enrollment rate and tuition revenue.

Bringing all this together, survey respondents say e-signatures have delivered a whopping 519 percent ROI on average. What’s more, respondents say this ROI continues to grow with each passing year, as more teams integrate electronic signing workflows into fully paperless document processes — further reducing processing time, cutting down on errors, freeing up valuable employee time, and enhancing customer experiences.

Want to see how your school can use e-signing to drive economic benefits like these? Then check out the library of step-by-step guides and how-to videos we’ve created on the Adobe for Academics website, and at our Education Resource Hub. We’re looking forward to helping you take the next steps on your school’s journey toward digital transformation!

Digital Signatures