Digitally transforming the agreement process will help shape the future of higher education enrollment, retention, teaching, and operations.
Since 2020, e-signature solutions have become a catalyst for many processes in higher education institutions. Teaching and administration are now at least partially remote at nearly every institution, and electronic signatures have helped ease all involved into a new academic norm.
Yet new challenges emerge daily. There's fierce competition to attract and retain students and staff. The Great Resignation has been particularly difficult for colleges and universities. Add to these challenges the decline of available federal grant dollars, the instability of donor commitments, and the need to use digital technologies to automate many traditional school/student interactions, and it becomes apparent that colleges and universities have to be fiscally conscious.
The digital transformation inherent in e-signature and related technology workflows address many of the current obstacles higher education institutions face.
Innovating E-Signature Use at Higher Education Institutions
Higher education institutions are broadening their reach when it comes to optimizing e-signature use across a spectrum of use cases:
Attract and serve the best students. A branded digital experience goes a long way toward attracting the most promising students, as speed and convenience during the application process are paramount. Many higher education institutions realize a 41 percent reduction in student enrollment processing time with e-signature use (see figure 1).Footnote1
Higher education institutions are also making the financial aid application process smoother. Most e-signature platforms include an SMS delivery feature that sends reminder text messages to students when it's their or their parents' turn to complete financial aid information or an e-signature field during an agreement process. Signers just tap a link in the text, and they're taken to the online page where they need to sign. Digitizing these processes can decrease financial aid processing time by up to 45 percent (see figure 1).Footnote2
In fact, nearly any process that needs to be initiated across a campus can now be digitized—including procurement of student dormitories or other campus housing. With responsive signing capabilities, students can track and sign residential agreements right from their phones.
Recruit faculty. Establishing a modern, digital onboarding process is the best way for higher education institutions to attract qualified professionals. Signing a letter of intent or offer is fully digital within an e-signature application and can be done from a candidate's tablet or phone.
E-signature applications also automate the contract process, speeding signing by notifying all involved through text reminders when a contract is opened. This digital process also makes archiving contracts easier since administrators don't have to scan documents for safekeeping. Most institutions experience an average 30 percent decrease in new-hire onboarding time with an e-signature applicationFootnote3
Secure donations and gifts. Now more than ever, fundraisers must be donor-centric and leverage technology to reach, solicit, and steward donors. Fundraisers as virtual events? They're now gaining momentum. E-signature apps and their ancillary applications can help automate an electronic pledge sheet within the virtual experience.
E-signature applications can also streamline the major gift process. Advancement officers and other stakeholders can easily review, redline, and approve a major gift agreement—and contributors can do the same on their end.
Once an agreement is final, downstream processes like version control and storage can happen automatically. Many institutions can shave up to three days from financial agreement processing time by using an e-signature application.Footnote4
Streamlining Repetitive Tasks with Online Forms
At most higher education institutions, paperwork has evolved from distributing hard copies to embedding PDF forms on college or university websites. While it's a great start, it's not true digital transformation.
Higher education institutions can create seamless information flows across campus and beyond through powerful online forms with an e-signature application as their foundation. Professors, executives, and operational staff can create self-service, on-demand documents—such as class add/drop forms—by embedding them on a website or class portal.
They can also automate the approval process by using a form as a link through the university's e-signature application. Busy academic professionals can eliminate document preparation time and easily pull form data into applications they already use. Most form platforms also feature encrypted security and deliver a user-friendly experience across the institution.
Teaching staff can usually create their own forms within a campus-wide e-signature license and send out a form link to multiple signers through an included bulk-send feature.
Best of all, faculty and staff can create institutional-branded forms with pre-made or custom online templates, and then store them in a central digital repository for repeat use (see figure 1).Footnote5
Expediting Research through Remote Online Notarization
Research by staff and students contracting with outside firms is critical for advancing thought leadership at colleges and universities.
Providing a modern system of notarization that allows for tracking, transparency, collaboration, and automation can take the research capabilities at a higher education institution to the next level; many leading e-signature platforms offer this as an ancillary service.
Remote online notarization (RON) enables digital notarization of campus documents via an encrypted audio-visual session where a notary meets signers virtually. Signers and the notary electronically process a document in real time, while the notary keeps an electronic notarial journal and applies a digital seal to the document.
Corporations can make use of RON when they employ graduate students as researchers. In order to access corporate facilities—where tests can involve animals, humans, or toxic chemicals—students must present notarized proof of college enrollment, which can be done quickly and easily through RON.
Additionally, technology-transfer teams support faculty and students by providing input on how best to align inventions with market needs, guiding people through the disclosure, patent, and licensing agreement process—often spinning these inventions into start-up ventures. These teams are responsible for negotiating the numerous agreements that protect their inventions and the revenues they generate, often through an e-signature application and its related RON process.
Saving Water, Waste, Trees, and the Planet
Global warming and deforestation are top of mind for many colleges and universities today. Quite a few have launched green initiatives to help facilitate climate control.
Environmental sustainability is an important part of the overall e-signature story. Digital agreements have replaced billions of pieces of paper, and a significant amount of the waste, water, carbon, and wood required to make that paper.
Adopting DocuSign eSignature and its add-on applications can be an integral part of an institution's sustainability effort by significantly reducing the institution's carbon footprint and taking the paper out of paperwork, helping ensure our forests and planet have a future (see figure 2).
Expanding and Transforming the Agreement Landscape
DocuSign eSignature and the DocuSign Agreement Cloud for Higher Education are a suite of lightweight applications enabling higher education institutions to automate and connect how they prepare, sign, act on, and manage agreements.
Become a part of digital agreement transformation. Learn more about how eSignature and the Agreement Cloud can help make every department within an institution more efficient and modern.
- DocuSign, "Digitizing Processes Across Campus with eSignature," White Paper, 2022. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
- Ibid. Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
- Ibid. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
- Ibid. Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
- Brian Standish, "WashU Transforms Digital Space with DocuSign," Washington University in St. Louis, Information Technology, (website), February 15, 2022. Jump back to footnote 5 in the text.
- DocuSign, "Benchmark Database for Education Industry," March 2022. Jump back to footnote 6 in the text.
- Brian Standish, "WashU Transforms Digital Space with DocuSign," February 15, 2022. Jump back to footnote 7 in the text.
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