The CEO and President of a tech co share lessons they’ve learned working in higher ed—and why they believe all education innovators need to ‘keep inventing!’
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Over the past 30 years, David Meek has demonstrated a deep passion and commitment to modernizing the higher education space. He founded Campus Management in 1988 to help colleges and universities drive institutional excellence. Under his leadership, the company grew into a major player in higher education, generating annual revenues of over $50 million serving more than 1,000 campuses across North America. He currently serves as the President at Unifyed, a cloud-based, next-generation student information system provider serving over seven million students in seven countries.
Ranjan Tayal is CEO of the Chicago-based company, with over 29 years of senior executive experience in leading business operations, product strategy, relationship management, and P&L management. Prior to joining Unifyed, Ranjan was the Chief Operating Officer at Ramco Systems, a leading AI, ML and voice-ready ERP solutions provider with focus on human capital management, global payroll, logistics, and aviation. Additionally, he held several leadership roles at Capgemini and Ericsson, where he led large deals internationally.
In this EdTech Digest interview, David and Ranjan share their passion for helping the higher education community meet issues and challenges more effectively through the strategic use of suitable technologies, the leadership involved in moving a company forward in this sector, what they make of the pace of change in just the last few years, student expectations from their perspective, questions of college affordability, and more.
David, as the successful founder and builder of Campus Management, and after selling it off—what compelled your return to the higher education community?
David: After taking some time off, I began to explore what problems and opportunities existed in Higher Ed. It seemed the biggest problem facing institutions was student retention and the greatest opportunity was the need for a more modern, cloud-based, student information system. I began to think about different ways to have the system share a positive impact on student retention. I began to explore this idea with the board members of Unifyed – a cloud-based, next generation student information system provider. We were in sync with the idea that the Higher Ed market today is in a need of a new Student Information System that was modern yet affordable. Unifyed agreed to finance the project and I stepped ahead to provide leadership in developing the product.
David, you’ve been working in higher ed for a long time, what do you think has been the real highlight of all the changes made over all these years?
David: The pace of change in higher ed has certainly picked up over the last decade, especially when we consider the adoption of technology to solve institutional challenges. Institutional budgets have been steadily shrinking and they can no longer invest in human capital to deal with the need to provide more and better services to the students. Thus, the move to technology platforms by keeping affordability in mind is an amazing step towards progress. Additionally, I am simply amazed at how fast AI is being adopted in various situations to help create cutting edge solutions in higher ed.
‘I am simply amazed at how fast AI is being adopted in various situations to help create cutting edge solutions in higher ed.’
Ranjan, you have wide experience in the tech sector; in dealing with higher ed institutions, what challenges do you see that technology can and should address?
Ranjan: One of the biggest challenges is in the communication stream between the institution and the student. Students desire and demand a lot of information that in previous years might have been provided through human interactions in face-to-face sessions, by phone, snail mail, or not provided at all. However, times have changed, today’s ever online generation demands the communication to be available within the touch of their fingertips; on their mobile devices instantly. Such information can be consumed anywhere and everywhere, pushing schools to upgrade their student platforms and design software and smart phone apps to deliver on these challenges.
Your thoughts on student expectations from higher ed institutions these days?
Ranjan: Today’s students are extremely adept at the use of technology to solve problems and provide information. Students want information to be readily available anywhere and everywhere they go. They expect the same of their schools. This creates a challenge for most institutions to adopt newer, better technologies with shrinking budgets.
How do your solutions help address college affordability in such competitive times? How is your company addressing and delivering a unifying experience for institutions of higher education?
David: By honoring our promise to keep prices for our products and services approximately 25% lower than the market, we are trying to do our part to lower overall costs. Having said that, we all know how legacy systems are pricey and yet inefficient when it comes to productivity and user satisfaction.
Ranjan: That’s true! To add to that, I would say, Unifyed is always at the onset of adopting cutting-edge technologies to provide the best user experience and elevate the productivity by being affordable at the same time. We were recently recognized as one of the cloud-based microservices market leader. We are always trying to help colleges and universities worldwide to improve student engagement by providing community and communication features commonly found on apps like LinkedIn. Additionally, Unifyed also offers longer-term contracts with smaller annual increases for colleges and universities
As we look into the future, any words of wisdom for edtech folks trying to make their mark in this space?
Ranjan: I would advise anyone interested in providing products and/or services to Higher Ed to spend the necessary time to understand the nature of the issues higher ed is fighting with today. Think of how you can be a force of nature and work towards solving a bigger problem of the society. Not all ideas will turn into a million-dollar business in a year, however, continuing to step up and staying determined towards taking technology as a shield to find real solutions to real life problem is the key.
‘…spend the necessary time to understand the nature of the issues higher ed is fighting with today. Think of how you can be a force of nature and work towards solving a bigger problem of the society.’
David: I completely agree with Ranjan; it is important to notice and understand the problems higher ed is facing today. Only then, one can think about solutions that can truly serve today’s higher ed needs. To infer, one should never stop; your ideas may not be big, but, may solve real problems that many institutions are facing today. Keep inventing!
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]