This is the third in a series of articles focused on mitigating the effects of inflation in education. Read part 1 and part 2 for the whole story.

Although the U.S. dollar may soon begin to recover from its year-long slump in purchasing power, education administrators throughout the country are still seeking ways to combat the effects of inflation on a day-to-day basis. At the classroom level, teachers are saving money on paper and pens by digitizing worksheets and homework assignments. Meanwhile, in the back office, admins are using cloud-based forms to save on envelopes and postage. And on a school-wide basis, education leaders are unlocking thousands of dollars in savings by digitizing multi-departmental workflows, such as hiring and enrollment processes.

In fact, more than 33 percent of K-12 schools are converting at least some of their paper forms to electronic equivalents, while that percentage is even greater at the higher-ed level. And while many decision makers cite “easier access to information” as the prime driver behind this change, there’s no denying that digital documents and electronic signatures bring measurable economic benefits, too. After factoring the costs of paper, ink, staples, envelopes and stamps, a school can save $3,000 or more for every “wet” signature they replace with a digital one.

Here, in part 3 of this three-part series, we’ll be building on the classroom and back office use cases we examined in part 1 and part 2, and explore how teachers and admins can fight inflation and multiply their cost savings by integrating individual digital documents and e-signatures into completely paperless processes. We’ll discover how these processes can be automated, saving significant labor and time. And we’ll see how electronic signature workflows are helping schools generate consistent revenue even during tumultuous economic times.

Let’s jump right in, and discover how schools are connecting thousands of paperless documents and digital signature integrations into cost-effective automated e-signing experiences on an institution-wide scale — achieving significant economic improvements along the way.

The cost savings of digital docs and e-signatures multiply at a departmental scale.

As we saw in parts 1 and 2 of this series, replacing just one single paper worksheet with a digital one can save your school hundreds of dollars on paper and printer ink. At the classroom level, you can start by encouraging teachers to use Adobe Scan to convert paper worksheets to PDF files — which many students prefer to paper, since PDFs take up no physical space and are easier to keep track of. For forms that require signatures, Adobe Acrobat Sign enables admins to collect remote e-signatures inside a PDF file, without even having to email it.

Upgrades like these will happen much more quickly when you set a forward-looking example in your own work style. For example, you can begin replacing paper handouts at staff meetings with PDFs viewed on tablets. Moving copiers to an out-of-the-way area can also send a clear message that it’s time to switch to digital docs. Once your teachers and admins are using electronic documents consistently, you might even consider implementing a small fee (say, 25 cents) for every piece of paper printed or copied — just to make sure good habits stick.

As teachers and admin staff make the switch to paper-free documents, you’ll soon see the economic benefits multiply. Your institution will become much less reliant on paper and ink — which, just in itself, can trim thousands of dollars off your monthly budget — plus, when you replace mailed paper forms with verified e-signatures, you’ll also significantly reduce many postage-related expenses, such as envelopes and stamps. The more staff members adopt paperless workflows, the more your school stands to save in the fight against inflation.

Cloud-based digital filing can help your school reduce costs and protect privacy.

In part 2 of this series, we saw how “digital cabinets” like Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive can help your teachers and admins cut down on a wide range of additional paper-related costs, by replacing expensive physical storage space with cloud-based filing systems, and using powerful indexing and search functionality to dramatically reduce your school’s need for data-entry and filing personnel.

On a school-wide basis, those savings multiply vastly when you invest in an interdepartmental solution like Microsoft SharePoint, which is designed to store, organize and index hundreds of thousands of files from many different teams. This represents a major improvement on the all-too-common problem of siloed data: when each department uses its own separate filing system, members of other departments often can’t access critical info — because it’s stored in a database they can’t access, or in a file format they can’t open, or because it’s not digitized at all.

Due to siloed data, staff members across an entire institution waste valuable time calling and emailing people in other departments, and digging through dusty old file drawers, to track down data they could pull up with just a few keystrokes in a modern digital filing cabinet. In light of these headaches, it’s easy to see why 32 percent of educational institutions are replacing yesteryear’s siloed files with centralized cloud-based student information systems.

Cloud-based filing systems enhance your school’s information security, too — keeping your students’ data safe with best-in-class security, and identity management services that enable you to assign authorization levels to specific staff members and devices, ensuring that each document only gets opened by people who need to see it. This means that, in addition to cost and time savings, digital cabinets also help keep you compliant with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA).

Automating paperless workflows can minimize errors and maximize school revenue.

The more teams and departments get on board with digital forms and worksheets, and with your school-wide digital filing system, the more repetitive tasks you’ll be able to automate from end to end using API and app integrations. For example, say you need to collect signatures from hundreds of service personnel on a contractor compliance form. By connecting Adobe Experience Manager with Adobe Acrobat Sign, you can rapidly generate a personalized URL for everyone who needs to sign the form, then send a secure link to each signer’s email or text-message inbox with just a few clicks.

And personalized form-signing experiences are just the beginning. Imagine if you could generate personalized pre-filled forms with just a single click, and send them each to the right person without worrying about manual errors. This is a snap when you plug Adobe Document Services into Microsoft Power Automate — an integration that not only makes it easy to generate and send thousands of personalized forms, but intelligently extracts data from those forms when they’re completed, and organizes that information into a secure searchable database.

Cutting-edge automation innovations like these represent far more than just saved time and labor. For example, in 2020, admins at the University of New Mexico (UNM) rolled out automated e-signatures across their human resources (HR), procurement and finance departments, shortening their vendor approval process from weeks to mere days. Meanwhile, UNM’s automated e-signing enrollment system enabled the school to keep enrolling students during a data center blackout.

In fact, research shows that younger students, in particular, are far more likely to complete digital processes than ones that require paper forms — which means an automated paperless enrollment process may actually boost your school’s enrollment and revenue. Factor in the findings that automated signing processes can increase transaction speeds by 30 percent, improve compliance by 25 percent, and reduce errors by up to 85 percent, and it’s clear that e-signatures can help schools achieve significant savings on administrative costs, too.

Ready to find out more about how to fight inflation by implementing these improvements at your school? We’ve created a wealth of step-by-step guides and how-to videos on the Adobe for Academics website — and you’ll find even more resources at our Education Resource Hub. We look forward to helping you take the next steps on your school’s journey toward digital transformation!

Digital Documents