Enrolment day marks an exciting milestone for college and university students registering for courses in the upcoming academic term. Some campuses traditionally see lines of students queuing up, snaking around buildings as if for a theme park attraction, waiting to sign their forms at the enrolment office.
For academic institutions, student signatures on learning agreements can trigger essential government funding that provides the resources colleges need to deliver quality learning experiences. It is a business-critical operation that education administrators do not want to see slowed down by COVID-19 precautions, which limit movement and social contacts on campus.
To ensure business continuity and re-imagine enrolment experiences, particularly for students who grew up in an e-commerce, mobile app, and instant-everything era, many academic institutions are turning to Education Software Solutions (ESS). A London-based leader in education management software with more than 19,000 customers in 49 countries, ESS saw the pandemic accelerate interest in how its UNIT-e information system, which many institutions already use to streamline administration, integrates with Adobe Acrobat Sign for electronic signatures.
E-signatures greeted with enthusiasm at Gloucestershire College
One eager adopter of Acrobat Sign was Gloucestershire College, an innovative and career-focused provider of further and higher education with three campuses in the United Kingdom. An ESS customer for the better part of a decade, the college had already been exploring ways to go paperless in recent years. The pandemic fast-tracked the initiative, fueled by the need for a digital workflow for student learning agreements.
“By the summer of 2020, we knew it was unlikely that we were going to be able to have on-site course sign-ups,” says Neil Pratt, head of Data Management, Gloucestershire College. “Setting up our learning agreement documentation and testing the electronic signature software only took a couple of months. The Adobe Acrobat Sign integration with the ESS UNIT-e system was a real advantage, making the implementation simple and quick.”
This integration advantage, as well as cost, led the college to choose Acrobat Sign over other e-signature solutions. Rollout was complete by autumn to begin facilitating more than 5,000 student enrolments over the past year. “The ease of use with our ESS portal is outstanding. It makes the process much more efficient for our enrolment administrators and students alike,” says Pratt.
Students can now quickly sign their enrolment forms on a computer from the convenience of home or during a short break, whether at work or on-the-go using a mobile device. The e-signature process typically takes less than a minute or two, with just a few taps on the screen, saving students a potential multi-hour trip to and from campus.
“Students and staff wouldn't want to go back to the old way of signing learning agreements. They couldn’t live without e-signatures now that they’ve enjoyed this ultra-convenient experience with Adobe Acrobat Sign,” Pratt says. After e-signature, a digital copy of each agreement is emailed to the student and made available for the student and administrators in the college’s portal.
Efficiency benefits that pay off
In the past, the college would print learning agreements for all applicants, so the documents would be ready on enrolment day for students to complete and sign. With the new solution, all the agreements are created and stored electronically from inception. With the elimination of paper learning agreements, the college is saving approximately £7,000 [more than US $9,000] annually for a third-party vendor to collect, scan, then destroy paper files.
“Our conversion from application to enrolment is around 65 percent, so every year we were wasting 35 percent of printed forms. Now the cost of printing 6,000 double-sided A3 agreements has been removed,” says Pratt. “All those costs are gone because we don’t have the paper to worry about. We've removed six filing cabinets in one office, which has made room for another bank of five desks, freeing up more space for teaching.”
Enrolment team productivity is improved and the college directs more staff toward important tasks like data quality checking, ensuring the college is maximizing its funding. In addition, the college has eliminated the need to transport enrolment paperwork across campuses while mitigating the risk of pages going missing.
“The integration with ESS has made the process of creating, sending, and securing signed documents so much easier,” says Pratt.
He credits ESS for helping the college complete its Acrobat Sign implementation expertly and fast. “The ESS team is very responsive whenever we need anything, including getting our learning agreement electronic signature workflow up and running smoothly,” says Pratt. “Best of all, the integrated solution delivers exactly what we need for ongoing operational continuity and effectiveness.”
ESS builds trust and awareness
“We do a lot of awareness-raising with educational institutions across the UK, reassuring them that electronic signatures are accepted by the government agencies they rely on for funding. They’re legal, tested, highly secure, auditable, and verifiable,” says Rob Clark, commercial director, Education Software Solutions.
ESS has found that paper-based enrolment forms can cost four times as much as an electronic signature-based process. Once the company points out the costs of postage on top of the relative expenses of paper, printing, scanning, storage, and disposal compared to the savings with Acrobat Sign, the advantages of automation become even clearer. Additional benefits include preventing back-dating and document defacement, easier authentication, and more efficient tracking, management, and storage, with less filing errors. The solution also frees up administrator time for higher-value activities, while fostering better educational outcomes and experiences with a more student-friendly process.
“Young people demand ease-of-use. They want signing up for a course to be as simple as a mobile app purchase,” says Clark. “Students don’t really want to be given a printout of something they've just signed. There’s a big sustainability agenda within colleges and universities. Electronic signatures and paperless transactions support that. By adopting our integrated Adobe Acrobat Sign solution, ESS customers are seen as institutions that are in tune with student expectations.”
The depth and breadth of Acrobat Sign use cases with ESS software is still evolving. For instance, when colleges began conducting on-campus COVID tests and had to document student consent, ESS’ integrated e-signature workflows enabled rapid mobilization so students and staff could return to campus safely.
“We originally selected Adobe Acrobat Sign because we worked with Adobe in other parts of our business. We appreciate how straightforward it has been to implement, allowing us to quickly make it available to our customers. We also value the ongoing support we receive as we respond to changing customer needs,” Clark says
Looking ahead, ESS would like to integrate its more automated e-signature processes with key platforms including Microsoft’s. In the meantime, it’s helping customers like Gloucestershire College explore how other departments, such as purchasing, could streamline invoice signoffs and various contract processes using e-signatures. “The benefits of Adobe Acrobat Sign quickly spreads by word of mouth and ignites enthusiasm across educational institutions,” says Clark.
Written by Chitra Mittha