Deep Springs College

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Deep Springs College
TypePrivate, two year
PresidentSusan Darlington
StudentsApproximately 26
Location, ,
United States

37°22′26″N 117°58′48″W / 37.3739°N 117.9800°W / 37.3739; -117.9800Coordinates: 37°22′26″N 117°58′48″W / 37.3739°N 117.9800°W / 37.3739; -117.9800
CampusRemote and rural Edit this at Wikidata
Logo of Deep Springs College.png

Deep Springs College is a small, private two-year college in Deep Springs, California. With fewer than 30 students at any given time, the college is one of the smallest institutions of higher education in the United States. After completing two years at Deep Springs, students may elect to receive an associate degree, though this seldom happens in practice as the expectation is that they will transfer to another school to complete their four-year degree.

Deep Springs College 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.

From its founding in 1917 under the name Deep Springs, Collegiate and Preparatory, the college was all-male, until its board voted in fall 2011 that the college would begin accepting female students in summer 2013.[1] After resolving several legal challenges,[2][3][4][5] the Deep Springs board of trustees voted once again in 2017 to admit women, starting with the class that entered in the summer of 2018.[6]

Organization and philosophy[edit]

Deep Springs students and staff moving cattle

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

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", dairy, and feedman. Deep Springs maintains a cattle herd and an alfalfa hay farming operation. Deep Springs Ranch's brand is an inverted capital T, known according to traditional branding terminology as the "Swinging T".

Students do not pay for tuition, room, or board, a point noted as critical by the college's founder, L. L. Nunn, in his correspondence with the early student bodies. The lack of tuition is often referred to as a full scholarship. 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 decision-making authority in determinations about admissions, curriculum, and faculty hiring. Every student serves on one of four standing committees during their time as a student: Applications (ApCom), Curriculum (CurCom), Communications (ComCom) or Review and Reinvitations (RCom). The Communications Committee (ComCom) was created in the early 1990s and charged with shaping the policies that define the college's relations with the world at large.

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. Nunn's first installation, a hydroelectric plant, was built in Telluride, Colorado, and has recently been restored, and another Nunn project at the Olmsted Power Station in Provo, Utah, was in operation from 1904 until 2015, and is on the National Register for Historic Places.[7][circular reference][8]

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, a second seat was given to the students. The two student trustees, elected by the Student Body, have full voice and voting rights.

The college was originally founded as an all-male college. In the 1990s, the school's leadership debated coeducation. While some alumni preferred to see the school remain the way it was, many women in the Telluride Association hoped it would change. In 1994, the Deep Springs board voted against making any change. In 1998, however, Deep Springs accepted a $1.8 million low-interest loan from Telluride, with the provision that Deep Springs must begin admitting women by 2019.[9] In the fall of 2011, the college's trustees voted to begin accepting female students in the summer of 2013,[1] but, before that could happen, legal challenges were lodged against the trustees' action. The challenges disputed their authority to change the admissions policy and included an injunction preventing the college from accepting female students until at least the 2018–2019 academic year.[2][3] On April 13, 2017, the California Court of Appeal, 4th District, decided the case of Hitz v. Hoekstra ruling that the college may admit women.[4] On June 29, 2017, the California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.[5] Two months later, the Deep Springs board of trustees voted once again to admit women. The first women students arrived in July 2018.[6][10]


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' physical isolation plays a central role in the educational experience. The entire Deep Springs community (students, faculty and staff) numbers fewer than 50 individuals.

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.[11] The line was replaced in the 1980s 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,[when?] 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. The Natural Resources Conservation Service maintains a remotely automated weather station in the desert near the campus.


By virtue of its small enrollment, the number of alumni is low, and most continue their studies at other universities.[12] Deep Springs alumni have been awarded Rhodes and Truman Scholarships, three MacArthur "genius grants", two Pulitzer Prizes, one Emmy award, and one E. O. Lawrence Award, among other honors.

Prominent alumni include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Rebecca R. Ruiz (September 19, 2011). "Elite, All-Male University of the Wild West To Go Coed". The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "Deep Springs College". Archived from the original on July 17, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Scott Jaschik (January 11, 2012). "Women Blocked at Deep Springs". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
  4. ^ a b "Appeals Court Issues Final Ruling Sustaining Lower Court Ruling for Coeducation - Deep Springs College". April 14, 2017.
  5. ^ a b "California Supreme Court Denies Request for Review, Lets Stand Appeals Court Ruling in Favor of Coeducation – Deep Springs College". June 29, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Deep Springs Board Votes to Admit Women | Inside Higher Ed". Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  7. ^ Olmsted Station Powerhouse
  8. ^ "Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant Replacement Project".
  9. ^ Goodyear, Dana (August 28, 2006). "The Searchers: The fate of progressive education at Deep Springs College". New Yorker. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  10. ^ "Coeducation". Deep Springs College. Retrieved October 1, 2019.
  11. ^ "To contact us, call your long distance carrier and ask for Deep Springs Toll Station #2." A toll station was a non-dialable point – effectively, a single line manual exchange with no local calling area and one lone subscriber. The only way to call in was to have a long-distance operator ring the inward operator in Victorville (routing code 619+058+121) who would then put the call through manually. "Deep Springs Toll Station #2." was the published number until 1987; an attempt to call this in 1989 reported "not in service". – The inward operator, Telecom Digest (listserv), Robert E. Seastrom; 1989
  12. ^ "Deep Springs College". Archived from the original on December 31, 2008. Retrieved November 25, 2008.
  13. ^ "Bloomberg Wins 2015 Pulitzer Prize". Business Wire. April 20, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2017.
  14. ^ F.M. Carney; N. Ravitch; L.M. Van Deusen; R.V. Hine (1986). Krogh, David (ed.). "John W. Olmsted, History: Riverside". University of California: In Memoriam: 225–27. Archived from the original on September 13, 2014.
  15. ^ "GERARD SAUCIER: curriculum vitae" (PDF). University of Oregon. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 29, 2017. Retrieved June 24, 2017.
  16. ^ "Shepard Smith DS'88 – Maryland". June 16, 2016. Retrieved August 25, 2021.
  17. ^ Hill, Samuel (June 13, 2016). "Shepard Smith named director of Coast Survey". The National Fisherman.

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