by By Hunter R. Slaton | October 01, 2009

1009SC StudentsHospitality schools around the country are experiencing a spike in the number of students pursuing a degree or specialization in meetings and event management. Would you believe some credit the boost to the 2001 Jennifer Lopez romantic comedy, The Wedding Planner?

Carl Winston, director of San Diego State University's School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, consistently hears two things from his event planning students (80 percent of whom are women): They planned their high school proms, and they loved The Wed­ding Planner. "That's crazy," Winston admits.

Dr. Abraham Pizam, dean of the Rosen Col­lege of Hospitality Man­agement at the Univer­sity of Central Florida in Orlando, says his school started a four-year event management degree program in 2006, and in just three years enrollment has surged to 850 students. "That is unheard-of growth," says Pizam.

Adds SDSU's Winston, "I call the meetings and events profession ‘the accidental industry,' because virtually everybody who's in it got into it by accident." But student interest and other data suggest this is changing. For one, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of meeting and convention planners will grow by 20 percent through 2016. This conscious pursuit of a career in meetings makes Winston optimistic about the future: "Twenty years from now, the people running this industry will have gotten into it on purpose," he says.