Deep Springs College is an oddity, as unique as the desert sunsets they are treated to every evening. Located in the eastern part of California, in the area of Inyo County that surrounds highway 168 on its way to Las Vegas, NV, this 26 student, all-male college distinguishes itself as perhaps the third best college in the country, though many would rank it as the hardest one to gain admission to (200+ apply each year). Purposely in the middle of nowhere(with no distance learning at all), this exclusive two year university has been widely recognized as the most prestigious one of its ilk, with a self-governed curriculum that dominates most four year schools.
Founded by industrialist and electrical genius L.L. Nunn in 1917, this wealthy man’s innovative ideas helped shape not only alternating current and hydroelectric emergence in our culture, but brought his askewed view to teaching our youth as well. Though it is at its heart a two year university, rarely do the students take their Associate degree and end their academic career, but rather use this isolated environment and rugged, self ruled daily life to prepare themselves to stand out at the next step. Obviously, the very nature of Nunn’s ideas leave little room for distance learning programs.
Nunn wanted to create an educational environment founded on the “3 pillars” (as he termed it), the trio of ideas necessary to mold young, male minds for greatness: academics, labor, and self-governance. Using a small, single sex student body in a secluded setting, engaging their bodies, as well as minds, daily and allowing them to make decisions on everything from curriculum to faculty, Nunn saw the chance to mold the leaders of business and government with his core values. The teachers live a short walk across the lawn from students (there is a 4 student per teacher ratio as well) and are available for guidance, tutoring, or plain discourse at any time, part of the college’s unique brand of 24 hour teaching.
Tuition isn’t collected, room/board aren’t charged (leaving students only responsible for incidentals like textbooks, etc), and although labor is part of the college’s daily class list, it is by no means a work for school trade. In fact, Nunn always imagined the two dozen or so boys would instead look at it as acceptance being the same as scholarship, and the work was meant to enhance them and the school rather than pay for their education. On campus farming coupled with solar and hydroelectric energy plants make the college self-sufficient, as educators and students share responsibility for the overall level of comfort/habitability.
Nunn saw his school’s job as a way to aid young men in “preparing themselves for lives of service to humanity” and he felt that to just address their minds was a waste. Students are engaged at all levels, are responsible for the success or failure of their education, their meals (cooking as well as the farming), staffing, office work, grounds maintenance, and, at the end of it all, are prepared to make the decision so many college students can’t; where do I go from here? Answer is anywhere, as graduates have gone on to everything form nuerosurgery, to Congress, thanks to Nunn’s strange little desert college.