Deep Springs College

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For the community, see Deep Springs, California.
Deep Springs College
Type Private, two year
Established 1917
Students about 26
Location Deep Springs, California, United States
Campus Remote and rural

Deep Springs College is a liberal arts college in Deep Springs, California, United States. A two-year college, 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, though this seldom happens in practice. Most continue their studies at other universities, out of which two-thirds go on to earn a graduate degree, and over half eventually earn a doctorate.[citation needed]

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."

From its inception in 1917, the college has been all-male, until its board voted, in fall 2011, that it would begin accepting female students in the summer of 2013.[1] There are currently active legal challenges to the Trustees' action, disputing their authority to change the admissions policy, including an injunction preventing the college from accepting female students and delaying coeducation until the 2017–2018 academic year at the earliest.[2][3]

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-government.

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


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 entire Deep Springs community (students, staff and faculty) numbers less 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.[4] 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, 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 that Deep Springs has produced in its entire history (about 1,000) is surpassed by many other colleges or universities in a single year. Most continue their studies at other universities (most commonly, Harvard, the University of Chicago, Yale, and Brown; and frequently Columbia, Oxford, ETH Zurich, UC Berkeley, Cornell, and Stanford).[5] Two-thirds go on to earn a graduate degree, and over half eventually earn a doctorate.

Deep Springs alumni have been awarded Rhodes and Truman Scholarships, two MacArthur “genius grants”, two Pulitzer Prizes, one Emmy award, one E. O. Lawrence award, among other honors.

Prominent alumni include:


  1. ^ Rebecca R. Ruiz (19 September 2011). "Elite, All-Male University of the Wild West To Go Coed". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 June 2012. 
  2. ^ "Deep Springs College". Archived from the original on 2012-07-17. 
  3. ^ Scott Jaschik (January 11, 2012). "Women Blocked at Deep Springs". Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  4. ^ "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
  5. ^ "Deep Springs College". Deep Springs College. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ 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. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°22′26″N 117°58′48″W / 37.3739°N 117.9800°W / 37.3739; -117.9800