It’s taken a lot for sophomore Jesus Meza to get to where he is today.
At 15 years of age, he joined his family in the logging business, wielding a chainsaw during 11-hour workdays. He’d log on the weekends during the school year in high school and still logs during long breaks.
Meza’s education has been funded through blood and sweat, and if the South Dakota Board of Regents’ requested $6 million tuition freeze isn’t implemented, more will be required of him come 2014.
“The problem is, with a lot of Hispanics or people from the Black Hills, the logging industry is dying,” Meza, who spent the summer logging, said. “I have coworkers with children that go here. If logging were to die out, that’s pretty much all we know.”
The SD BOR requested the tuition freeze last month by naming it the top priority in its budget sent to Gov. Dennis Daugaard. The tuition freeze would cover salary increases to employees at public in-state institutions, with the $6 million difference coming from state funds.
The request will move to the legislature if it makes it into Daugaard’s budget proposal in early December. It would then move to the state legislature.
“Then they can hit the ground running,” Janelle Toman, the BOR’s director of communications, said.
Toman said the BOR is currently “making our case to those involved” in the legislature.
“We need to make our case to the governor,” she said. “We need to convince the legislation it is a great need.”
Meza said his parents have saved enough money through their own jobs in the logging industry for him to attend college, but he knows of others who would have to drop out.
“If there’s no logging and no school it’s just minimum wage jobs,” Meza said. “I just hope for the best and that we can work out a fair deal for the professors and the students.”
Each summer Meza’s work helps to pay for a semester at USD, but logging doesn’t come without its risks. When he first began logging, he cut his thigh with the chainsaw, and he almost died three times over the summer.
In one of those instances, Meza was cutting a whitewood tree in Nebraska with his cousin. While it was being cut, the tree began leaning, but when the final cuts were being made it began falling in the opposite direction, directly toward Meza’s cousin.
“I yelled at him, but it’s tough to hear because he had earplugs in. I expected him to drop the chainsaw and run to the side, but instead he ran straight,” Meza said. “The main trunk of the log was a foot above his head when I was thrown to the ground. I didn’t notice the branch coming right at me — the only thing I was thinking of was my cousin.”
His cousin escaped the incident with only scratches and bruises on his back.
Another time, he was cutting a tree on a cliff when the recoil from the chainsaw pushed him down a cliff. Meza got caught on another tree farther down the cliff, but was almost injured by the falling chainsaw.
Although Leah Banks doesn’t work in the logging industry, the uncertainty of the tuition freeze has the potential to impact the sophomore’s future education plans.
Banks, a member of the Army Reserve since 2011, doesn’t know if her unit will have to deploy in the next year, but a tuition increase could be an equal roadblock.
“I’ll be fine, but that’s not money I want to dig into,” Banks, who has a reserve college fund, said.
Banks has already taken a ride on the tuition rollercoaster. Last spring, due to the sequester, her military tuition assistance, totaling about $4,500 a year, was cancelled.
The assistance was reinstated in March, but the deadline to apply for the tuition assistance had already passed.
“I had money saved up,” Banks said. “That’s my last resort.”
Banks, whose major is Addiction Studies, plans to attend graduate school, but said that could change depending if tuition rises.
Both students are in favor of the tuition freeze, but Banks feels it should also extend to out-of-state tuition.
“It’s like going trick-or-treating,” Banks said. “You give a handful of candy to one child and just a piece to another.”
Meza hopes after graduation he will be able to help his parents retire. Without their assistance, he said he probably wouldn’t be in school.
“I’d probably be logging,” he said.