Founded in 1917, Deep Springs is a highly selective two-year college unlike any other: it enrolls just 26 students, all men, for a two-year regimen of study and toil. Most graduates go on to equally selective four-year colleges. By “equally selective,” I mean Yale.
The college sits on a cattle ranch and alfalfa farm in California’s High Desert and operates “on the belief that manual labor and political deliberation are integral parts of a comprehensive liberal arts education,” according to the web site.
Deep Springs is an ambitious place, intended as a training ground for leaders. Founder L.L. Nunn put it thus: “Great leaders in all ages have sought the desert and heard its voice.”
The admission rate ranges from 6 percent to 15 percent a year. Students who manage to get in attend on a full scholarship worth about $50,000 a year. Over the past 10 years, according to the web site, 16 percent of students went on to Harvard, 13 percent to the University of Chicago, 7 percent to Yale and 7 percent to Brown.
It is probably safe to assume that two years at Deep Springs is, for many lads, a first taste of honest toil. Here is another excerpt from the web site:
Students often rise before the sun. At 6:00, when the Feed Man sets out on his first feed run, the dairy boys are already up, half asleep and milking cows. A Farm Teamer may have been in the tractor baling hay since 4:30. All are especially thankful for the breakfast cook, who’s up early preparing the morning’s meal.
Deep Springs decided to accept women this month on the theory the school’s mission of grooming future leaders (and irrigating fields) should not be limited to men. The first women will arrive in 2013.
Nunn felt the school’s purpose “was to prepare this small group that he called ‘the few,’ a trustee wrote on a community blog. “In today’s world, this group includes women.”
The number of single-gender colleges continues to dwindle. Deep Springs was one of about 60 such institutions, primarily Christian and Jewish. Enrollment concerns often push the co-ed cause, although clearly Deep Springs does not want for applicants.