How digital transformation at a community college bolsters student success

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Foothill-De Anza Community College District’s two campuses serve a diverse student population, with many of those students the first in their families to attend college.

The organization is dedicated to their success. That means supporting faculty and staff as much as possible. They are, after all, the people who can really make a difference in students’ lives.

“Anything we can do to lighten faculty and staff workloads gives them more time to focus on our students,” says Joseph Moreau, vice chancellor of technology and CTO at Foothill-De Anza Community College District. “With the state budget under enormous pressure, we have to find smarter ways of working.”

Moreau is leading a digital transformation for the community college district, working to digitize information, automate processes, and modify how people work in a culture that is traditionally more paper-based. For the past several years, he and his team have promoted Adobe Document Cloud as a way to make the shift into digitization.

Last year, their efforts got a big boost. The Foundation for California Community Colleges (FCCC) signed an Enterprise Term License Agreement (ETLA) with Adobe, giving the state’s 116 community colleges affordable access to Adobe Acrobat Sign and Adobe Acrobat Pro. Foothill-De Anza Community College District jumped on the opportunity to improve operations for the district’s centralized business functions and for Foothill and De Anza colleges.

“The statewide contract between FCCC and Adobe was a big win for us,” says Moreau. “It was a huge advantage to be able to tell faculty and staff they already have access to Adobe solutions, and it was one of the main reasons we went forward with Acrobat Sign and Adobe Acrobat.”

Launching a new degree program with Acrobat Sign and building momentum

Moreau’s team includes Chien Shih, director of IT and operations, and Claire Chang, project coordinator for Acrobat Sign. Even before the FCCC contract, they had made enormous strides in helping faculty and staff move from paper forms to digitized PDF forms to fully automated processes.

Moreau describes Chang as the “champion and guru of Acrobat Sign.” She was instrumental in getting the application process for a new bachelor’s degree program up and running—opening the door to an exciting new opportunity for Foothill College students seeking to pursue a dental hygiene career.

“In 2014, the California Legislature authorized a pilot program allowing 15 community colleges in our system to provide bachelor’s degree programs, and Foothill was chosen to offer a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene,” says Moreau. “But the program team in Biological & Health Sciences quickly realized they had no way to handle the new application process.”

Chang and Shih worked with their college colleagues to design an effective digital form with Acrobat Sign, allowing students to submit applications online. They used APIs to download form field data into a dashboard, giving the program director a central spot to manage applications. And they created a digital workflow to allow each member of the selection committee to review and recommend candidates.

Chang estimates the process is 90% faster than the previous application processes. And it’s 100% digital, allowing students to complete the form on any device and making the student experience extremely positive. Behind the scenes, it makes life easier for academic deans, department chairs, and other faculty, eliminating the hassle of chasing paper forms through lengthy, manual approval processes.

“Not only did the digital workflow save time and money, it also allowed the administration to focus more on students and less on bureaucracy,” says Moreau. “That was amazing.”

The success and speed of the project spurred others in the organization to pursue digitization and e-signatures for their programs. The Biological & Health Sciences Division immediately asked for help setting up digital applications for eight additional programs. Chang and Shih haven’t slowed down since. They’ve branched out to other departments, helping to create several student request forms, including add/drop class, record change, enrollment verification, and the district’s Humanities Mellon Scholar Program application.

COVID-19 changed everything

The team had been making great progress driving adoption of Acrobat Sign and Adobe Acrobat, spurred on by the Adobe ETLA and the widespread desire to digitize. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“COVID-19 changed everything,” says Shih. “Before, many people were too busy to try new ways of working. Now, they suddenly had no choice—they had to go digital.”

The team was prepared to deal with the sudden influx of demand for digital workflows, which were crucial for keeping the colleges running. “The good news is that we had the foundational elements in place, including single sign-on, and enough experience to be successful at scale,” says Moreau. “Before COVID-19, we were making progress. But in the past four months, it’s been an overwhelming success.”

Foothill-De Anza Community College District has published 43 workflows since the start of the pandemic, with about half of them within the first few months. Virtually every paper form is now a PDF, and any document requiring a signature goes through Acrobat Sign. That includes contractor time sheets, expense reports, grade change request forms, and dual enrollment forms for high school students.

“In the past, high school students had to print enrollment forms and get them signed by their parents and high school principal before submitting them to the college,” says Chang. “Now the entire workflow is digital, and we’ve processed several thousands of these forms in the past four months alone. Given the COVID-19 crisis, it wouldn’t have been possible without Acrobat Sign.”

Chang has been working hard to keep up with heightened demand for Adobe Document Cloud during the pandemic. Her training sessions and documentation have helped faculty and staff adapt quickly, and many people can now use the Request Signature feature to create impromptu workflows. Now, more than half of all forms are sent that way.

The push to digitalize gets accelerated

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that people have really started to work through the cultural obstacles of digital transformation,” says Moreau. “We’re asking people to transform the way they work, which isn’t easy—but it has been extremely successful.”

Moreau and his team have found that, with the ease and efficiency of using Acrobat Sign and Acrobat, the tools catch on fast. Once they learn how to use them, faculty and staff have a natural inclination to tell their colleagues. And most people say they’ll never go back to paper.

Now, Foothill-De Anza Community College District aims to further increase efficiency by encouraging people to collaborate on documents using Adobe Acrobat. Because users ultimately convert their forms to PDF, no matter how they’re initially created, the native collaboration and editing features within Adobe Acrobat make it even easier to create, refine, and gain consensus on new digital forms. Moreau also wants to use Acrobat Sign to automate document generation and approval processes, which could save a lot of time and simplify many jobs.

The organization has a solid start to its digital transformation, even though it’s still in the early stages. “We’re looking for the next opportunity to serve students better, reduce workloads, and help faculty and staff focus on student engagement,” says Moreau. “Adobe Document Cloud will help us get to the next level.”

Foothill-De Anza Community College District uses Adobe Document Cloud to transform paper-based processes into streamlined digital experiences. Learn more.