How going paperless can help your school fight inflation — Part 1: Classrooms

This is the first of three articles focused on mitigating the effects of inflation in education. Click here for part two and here for part three.

With inflation levels hovering around six percent, many teachers and school admins are actively looking for creative ways to cut costs and fight inflation. Although consumer prices are gradually beginning to stabilize, supplies like paper, pens and envelopes still take a bigger budgetary bite than they used to — prompting educators to brainstorm affordable alternatives to traditional “wet” paperwork.

One key innovation is the increasing adoption of e-signatures and electronic documents, which ramped up at institutions across the country during 2020’s switch to remote education. Today, even as students have returned to campuses, many digital adaptations continue to provide economic value for schools — reducing their reliance on costly paper and ink, decreasing the physical space necessary for admin work, and even streamlining processes like enrollment.

In this three-part series of articles, we’ll take an in-depth look at how paperless document technology helps educators counteract the effects of inflation, by reducing or even eliminating costs from the classroom level on up. We’ll start by visiting individual classrooms, where teachers are saving money by replacing paper forms and assignments with digital ones. In the second installment, we’ll see how cloud-based tools are helping admins cut costly paper and envelopes out of their meetings. Finally, in part three, we’ll explore how digital document ecosystems are saving schools thousands of dollars by automating institution-wide workflows.

Let’s dive right in and discover how your school can start saving money today by bringing paperless documents into individual classrooms. It all starts by using a free app to take advantage of a tool we all use every day: our smartphone camera.

An inventory of classroom supplies will reveal potential for paperless savings.

Teachers often begin each school year by conducting an inventory of the supplies their classroom will need, from paper and pencils to baskets and books. Many of these supplies are becoming more expensive every year; and quite a few teachers end up having to pay for paper and pens out of their own pockets. This state of affairs obviously isn’t ideal for anybody — and paperless technology is helping many educators find more cost-effective alternatives in fighting inflation.

A quick inventory of supplies used in a classroom can help pinpoint many opportunities to reduce costs with paperless adaptations. For example, free apps like Adobe Scan turn any iOS or Android device into a mobile high-resolution scanner, enabling teachers to share worksheets and homework assignments as PDF files instead of printing them out.

Even a multi-page worksheet is a snap to digitize with Scan, which automatically adds pages to the same PDF file, then makes it easy to rearrange them, adjust the borders and contrast, and share the file with students — who can then scan and submit their handwritten work with an ordinary phone camera. PDFs are easier to keep track of than paper worksheets, and they’re less likely to get smudged, too. In fact, as teachers discovered during 2020’s era of remote education, many students actually prefer doing homework digitally.

Just this one simple switch, from paper assignments to paperless ones, can dramatically reduce a classroom’s spending on paper and pens. But those savings are just the beginning.

Digital documents dramatically reduce the costs of sharing forms and worksheets.

A complete classroom budget has to account not only for paper and pens, but also for the costs of printer cartridges, laminating plastic, staples, envelopes, stamps, and all the other easy-to-forget expenses that surround printing and sharing a single piece of paper. Although many educators may not think of these as traditional “classroom expenses,” they certainly end up as line items on somebody’s spreadsheet — consuming money that could be saved or allocated more effectively elsewhere.

Factoring in all these expenses, research reveals that digitizing and emailing just one single document can save your school up to $9.50 in paper, ink, faxing and mailing costs — which means your institution can save $3,000 or more per document simply by encouraging teachers to replace paper-and-ink worksheets and forms with PDF files.

That upgrade should really be a no-brainer, since most of us use digital devices to plan our schedules, connect with our friends, and navigate our cities. Even so, a staggering 77 percent of U.S. education workflows continue to rely on obsolete paper-and-ink documents — a shortfall that represents a significant opportunity for tech-savvy teachers to reduce their classrooms’ document-related costs, simply by replacing paper with an app.

Multiply $3,000 per document across all the worksheets and assignments distributed every day in each of your school’s classrooms, and it’s clear that digital workflows can serve as major game-changers in the battle against inflation-related expenses. No wonder 33 percent of K-12 educators are now converting paper assignments and forms to digital ones — and those numbers are even greater at the higher-ed level.

Digital signatures can help eliminate many expenses around signed forms.

Forms that require signatures create even more costs and headaches for teachers. For example, students (and parents!) frequently misplace forms that need to be signed. These forms often come back late, or smudged, or without a necessary signature. Every form that has to be re-printed, re-stapled and re-mailed racks up even greater costs at the classroom level — but those costs can be eliminated by switching to e-signatures.

Once a teacher converts a form into a PDF file using the Scan app, Adobe Acrobat Sign plugs in seamlessly, integrating verified e-signing functionality right into the file. Teachers can send out signature requests from within the PDF itself, without any need to keep track of emails and attachments. When a recipient opens the file, Sign guides them through the signing process step by step, automatically scrolling to each signature location, and helping them apply their unique e-signature with a single click.

This streamlined electronic signing flow reduces processing times for consent slips, liability waivers, and individualized education program (IEP) forms from weeks to mere minutes. Digitally signed forms are all but impossible to lose — and instead of taking up valuable space in bulky filing cabinets, they’re stored securely in the cloud, always accessible to authorized viewers (like teachers) at the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen. And as with worksheets and homework assignments, every signable form that’s sent digitally, instead of being printed and mailed on paper, can save your school thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses.

Changes like these are fast and easy to implement in your fight against inflation — and they’re strong first steps on your school’s digital transformation journey. Just a simple switch from a paper-and-ink homework assignment to a digital one, using a PDF and e-signature, enables your school to start going digital. As upgrades like these become established practices, they’ll help your school stay digital, by making it easier to digitize entire document workflows. And as you begin to automate those workflows, your school can truly be digital — saving money every step of the way.

Next time, in part 2 of this series, we’ll step into the back office, and discover how digital tools are helping school administrators collaborate more quickly and cost-effectively. Until then, we’d love to walk you step-by-step through classroom-level changes that’ll help your teachers reduce expenses, starting right now. You’ll find guides and how-to videos on the Adobe Education Exchange and our Education Resource Hub. Looking forward to seeing you there!