Hit TV Shows & Popular Fields of Study

Could NBC drama The Philanthropist lead to a surge of college students seeking to major in international development, philanthropy and nonprofit management? It might seem like a long shot, but consider the case of the hit TV series CSI. According to this CBS News report from 2003 headlined “CSI Spurs Forensic Academics”:

Admissions director Brian Barden said the school’s admissions officers have been overwhelmed by students asking whether the university had a forensic science program. When students were asked why they were interested in forensic science, "most of them would say, ‘CSI,"’ Barden said.

That’s what prompted the creation of Mansfield’s new forensic science minor. Similar efforts are under way elsewhere. Among them:

Enrollment in Baylor University’s forensic science program has grown nearly tenfold since the program was started in 1999, and Pace and West Virginia universities report that forensic sciences are their fastest-growing programs.

Syracuse University and Chatham College are among the schools considering creating forensic science minors; the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia and Hilbert College have done so.

The University of Baltimore has a new forensic sciences major, and Saint Louis University has a major in investigative medical sciences.

New graduate programs have been created at the University of California at Davis, Duquesne University, and the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

"CSI" isn’t the first show to generate interest in an academic discipline or profession. "L.A. Law" was widely credited with boosting law school applications in the 1980s, just as "ER" did for medical schools in the 1990s. More recently, such shows as "Trading Spaces" have fostered interest in interior design as a profession.

Have you seen CSI, ER or L.A. Law? Of course you have. Did you complain that it wasn’t realistic? Of course not, they are prime time entertainment! But each of them positioned their profession in a way that was engaging to the audience. Philanthropy is desperately in need of something similar.


  1. Jeff Trexler says:

    It’s already had a positive effect–I’ve personally decided to ditch my career in nonprofits to become a billionaire playboy. Clearly the latter is a far more effective way to do good!

  2. Jeff, I do think your critique of the show is spot on. To the extent you want to leave comments on any of these posts, I would certainly quote you during the debate.