Deep Springs College

Deep Springs College
Deep Springs College
Established 1917
Type Private
Students about 26
Location Deep Springs, California, USA
Campus Rural

Deep Springs is a private, all-male (but soon-to-be coeducational)[1], alternative college in Deep Springs, California, in the United States. A two-year college, it is one of the most selective institutions for undergraduate students in the United States.[2] Each year it admits 10 to 15 students from a pool of 100 to 200 applicants. The institution currently aims for a student body size of 26, though the number is occasionally lower. After completing two years at Deep Springs, students may elect to receive an associate's degree, although this rarely happens in practice. Most continue their studies at other universities (most commonly, Harvard, the University of Chicago, Yale, and Brown; and frequently Columbia, Oxford, UC Berkeley, Cornell, and Stanford).[3] Two-thirds go on to earn a graduate degree, and over half eventually earn a doctorate.

Deep Springs is in Deep Springs Valley in Inyo County, California near the larger Owens Valley and about 25 miles (40 km) over mountain passes from the nearest town, Dyer, Nevada, and 45 miles (72 km) from the nearest town of significant size, Bishop, California. The official name of the institution is "Deep Springs College." It was founded under the name "Deep Springs, Collegiate and Preparatory." Deep Springs is, for now, one of a few remaining all-men's liberal arts colleges in the United States.


Organization and philosophy

Deep Springs students and staff moving cattle.

Deep Springs is founded on three principles, commonly called the "three pillars": academics, labor, and self-governance.

Deep Springs, in some respects, resembles a work college. In addition to studies, students work a minimum of 20 hours a week either on the ranch and farm attached to the college or in positions related to the college and community. Position titles have historically included cook, irrigator, butcher, groundskeeper, cowboy, "office cowboy," and feedman. Deep Springs maintains a cattle herd and an alfalfa hay farming operation. Deep Springs Ranch's brand is an upside-down capital T, known according to traditional branding terminology as the "Swinging T".

Students pay only for incidental expenses such as textbooks. Tuition, room, and board are not charged, a point noted as critical by the college's founder, L. L. Nunn, in his correspondence with the early student bodies. Sometimes the lack of tuition has been said to be a scholarship.[4] According to Nunn, the labor program was not intended as a substitute or exchange for the scholarship or tuition, but rather as a fundamental part of the educational experience.

Self-governance is a critical part of the Deep Springs educational program. Students hold the dominant decision making authority in making determinations about admissions, curriculum, and faculty hiring. Every student serves on one of four standing committees during his time as a student: Applications (ApCom), Curriculum (CurCom), Communications (ComCom) or Review and Reinvitations (RCom). The Communications (ComCom) was created In the early 1990s and charged with shaping the policies that define the college's relations with the world at large. (Physical isolation is a key aspect, philosophically as well as geographically, of life at Deep Springs.)

The college also supports three administrators, eight or nine professors, and a staff of five. Professors may not hold tenure. Three long-term professorships can be held for up to six years, and four short-term slots are filled for one or two terms of seven or fourteen weeks each.


Deep Springs was founded in 1917 by L. L. Nunn, an industrialist who made his fortune building alternating current power plants in the western United States. AC power could be transmitted over long distances, so the inefficient steam-powered pulley systems in mines could be replaced with hydro-electric power and AC motors. Nunn's first installation, a hydroelectric plant, was built in Telluride, Colorado, and has recently been restored.

The plants required well-trained engineers capable of living under rough conditions. After failing to find suitable men from eastern schools willing to travel west, Nunn began schooling local men and found his passion for education. He eventually sold his industrial assets and put the money into two educational institutions. Nunn first founded the Telluride Association, an educational trust based at Cornell University, in 1911. Seeing his vision there undermined by its setting, he founded Deep Springs in 1917 and helped run it until his death in 1925.

To manage the college, Nunn established a board of trustees to ensure the college's long-term viability and preserve the traditions that make it educationally effective. Initially, one seat on the board was reserved for a student, however when the board expanded from 7 to 13 seats, another was given. The two student trustees, elected by the student body, have full voice and voting rights.

Community members turn over frequently (students in two years and faculty in 1–6 years), but each new generation takes a strong interest in preserving the character and renewing the functioning of the educational experience at Deep Springs. Over many years and many social and financial challenges, the college has maintained and evolved its original mission through the dedication of community members and support from alumni and friends.

Nunn's initial need for education may have been practical, but he was animated by a strong philosophy of public service based in individual responsibility. In his vision, men learned this philosophy not just in the classroom but also in work and mutual reliance. Deep Springs' isolation, ranch setting, and activities — school, work, politics — create the conditions for this practical education. The dedication of the community in preserving this tradition and the achievements of the few alumni testify to the strength of Nunn's vision.


View from main ranch to Deep Springs Valley

Deep Springs College is essentially alone in Deep Springs Valley, a geological depression between the White and Inyo mountain ranges. The nearest sizable town is Bishop, an hour by car over a mountain pass.

Deep Springs’s physical isolation plays a central role in the educational experience.

The flip-side of the isolation policy is the notion of self-sufficiency and due care latent in Nunn's notion of "stewardship." The college tries to support itself in food and more recently in energy, with a small hydroelectric power station built in the late 1980s and a solar power array finished in 2006. During peak periods, the college sells surplus power to Pacific Gas & Electric.

Deep Springs used to have a direct telephone line that crossed the White Mountains, but difficult maintenance made service unsustainable. The line was replaced in the 1990s by a wireless radio link connecting to the Bishop central office. Because the radio signal is relayed using a repeater station high in the White Mountains, and because the first relay out of Deep Springs Valley does not have line of sight, the system is subject to outages caused by high winds and inclement weather. Previously, the college's Internet connection was an unusually slow 14.4 kbit/s data channel multiplexed into the radio link. Currently, the college is connected to the Internet by satellite.

A small seismic station exists behind the main campus, installed by the former Soviet Union as part of a bi-national underground nuclear test monitoring agreement.


By virtue of its small enrollment, the number of alumni that Deep Springs has produced in its entire history (about 1000) is surpassed by most other colleges in a single year. Many Deep Springs alumni have been awarded Rhodes and Truman Scholarships, and two have been awarded MacArthur “genius grants”: geophysicist Raymond Jeanloz and sinologist Erik Mueggler. One has been awarded the U.S. government's E. O. Lawrence award: mathematician Gustavus Simmons.

Other prominent alumni include:


External links

Coordinates: 37°22′26″N 117°58′48″W / 37.373889°N 117.980000°W / 37.373889; -117.980000

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