Can digital signing increase school enrollment in higher ed?

Students in classroom listening.

As schools across the U.S. continue to feel the pinch of inflation, educational administrators are actively seeking creative ways to reduce expenses and increase student enrollment and tuition revenue. While many institutions’ budgets remain fixed, the costs of everyday supplies like paper and ink remain unusually high, prompting 25 percent of educators at both the K-12 and higher-ed levels to replace “wet” paper signatures with electronic signatures.

Although most educators cite “easier access to information” as the key driver behind these upgrades, budgetary benefits also play a major role. Research also shows that a school can save $3,000 or more for every “wet” signature they replace with a digital one — particularly on a document that would otherwise have to be physically packaged and mailed out to thousands of students, parents or contractors.

What’s more, replacing a paper-centric signing workflow with a paperless one can deliver measurable increases in revenue. For example, according to Forrester’s 2023 report, The Total Economic Impact of Adobe Acrobat Sign, 43 percent of organizational leaders say the adoption of digital signing has increased their acquisition of new customers — while schools like The University of New Mexico (UNM) have found that automated e-signature workflows result in higher completion percentages for their enrollment processes.

Why is this? To answer that question, we’ll take a closer look at three key ways in which digital signature technology can streamline your school’s signing workflows, delivering enhanced customer experiences that can translate into increased student enrollment rates for higher education and greater tuition revenue.

Reduce friction in enrollment by replacing “wet” signatures with electronic signatures

In today’s digital-first world, even a single “wet” paper signature can create significant friction in a digital document process. For example, think back to the last time you had to print out and mail a paper form to complete an application you’d started online. You probably found yourself annoyed and frustrated at this time-consuming step. You may have considered abandoning the process, and finding an alternative that could be completed digitally. Even if you did finish the application, the requirement to fill out and send a paper form hurt the quality of your customer experience.

This is why every document journey needs to be fully digital from end to end. The good news is, that’s easier than ever to achieve, with the help of e-signature apis and integrations that come prebuilt into many popular apps and cloud services. For example, adobe acrobat sign can turn any scanned piece of paper into a PDF form with just a few clicks, automatically inserting text fields and drop-down menus where they belong, and even enabling you to collect signatures inside the PDF file itself, with no need for email attachments.

According to the Forrester report, organizations that upgrade from “wet” paper signatures to digital signatures see 30 percent faster transaction speeds and a 50-percent increase in digital student enrollments. That means your school could be enrolling many more students, much more rapidly, simply by replacing paper-and-ink signatures with digitally signed pdfs. And those benefits quickly multiply when you take the next steps toward digital transformation, by connecting digital documents into multi-department electronic signing workflows.

Leverage platforms like Power Automate to create automated e-signing processes.

Building on the e-signing functionality outlined above, a platform like Microsoft Power Automate enables you to multiply your school’s e-signature automation power by creating end-to-end electronic signing workflows. Integrations and APIs built into these platforms make it easy to create modern, cloud-based document and web experiences that are highly automated and always accessible — as explained in Adobe’s free webinar, Elevate Your E-Signatures: 3 Tips for Smarter Workflows With Adobe Acrobat Sign Solutions.

Consider, for example, a traditional signing workflow on a student loan application. Each external signer (such as a student or parent) must download the required forms from your school’s server, enter as many required details as possible, attach those forms to an email, and send them to an internal signer. Each internal signer then must open the email, download the attached forms, fill in the required details, sign the form, and send it to the next internal signer. Once all internal signers have completed the form, it’s sent back to the student or parent, who must print the forms, sign with wet ink, scan each page, and email the paperwork back. And worst of all, a single error at any stage of this process may require an entire stage of the signing process to be restarted from scratch.

The good news is that modern automation makes this process unnecessary. When you leverage the Adobe PDF Services API built into Power Automate, senders can submit a digital agreement for signatures from all signers in a sequential fashion, setting automated reminders to ensure timely completion. Since all internal signers are signing inside the same PDF file, all they must do is click a link, review the document, and submit their signature. Power Automate intelligently proceeds to the next signer in the sequence. Then, once signing is completed, the external signer can open the PDF, apply the final signature, and submit it.

This streamlined workflow delivers measurable economic benefits. A full 60 percent of Forrester survey respondents agree that e-signature automation has reduced their document processing time, resulting in a 260-percent increase in employee productivity. In fact, when the University of New Mexico automated e-signing processes across their human resources (HR), procurement and finance departments, their approval times dropped from weeks to mere days — and they were even able to keep enrolling students during a data center blackout.

Tap into deeper Adobe integratins to streamline form creation and data collection

Organizing your PDFs in a cloud-based “digital cabinet” like Microsoft SharePoint makes it much easier to collect electronic signatures on digital documents, while enabling each department within your institution to continue using applications they’re already familiar with. What’s more, Acrobat Sign’s electronic signing capabilities integrate seamlessly with Power Automate’s functionality, making it easy to automate repetitive tasks like sending out forms, verifying signatures, and entering data from completed applications.

For example, by connecting SharePoint to Adobe Document Services and Power Automate, you can enable admin staff to generate thousands of personalized forms with just a few clicks, then send each of those forms to the correct student or parent via a secure link. Unlike most digital signing apps, Acrobat Sign requires recipients to sign with a qualified e-signature (QES), the most stringent level of e-signature, which is verified by a qualified trust service provider (TSP) and generates an audit trail each time that signature is applied to a document. This streamlines regulatory compliance by ensuring that each signer is who they claim to be.

After a form has been signed internally and externally, Power Automate can automatically extract data from all its fields, and automatically populate that info into a secure database, eliminating the need for costly, error-prone manual data entry. In fact, 85 percent of Forrester study respondents report a reduction in data-entry errors because of automating their digital signature workflows. What’s more, they’re seeing an increase in student enrollment completion rates — resulting in a three-year return on investment (ROI) of nearly 500 percent.

To find out how to upgrade your school’s document signing processes, and reap the budgetary benefits of automated e-signature workflows, check out Adobe’s free webinar, Elevate Your E-Signatures: 3 Tips for Smarter Workflows With Adobe Acrobat Sign Solutions.

You’ll find even more free guides and how-to videos at the Adobe Education Exchange, and at our Education Resource Hub. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!