s02 miss a contestants arrive

Miss America contestants arrival ceremony at Kennedy Plaza on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ. Tuesday Sept 1, 2015.

A review of the Miss America Organization’s scholarship program shows the organization awarded nearly $6 million in academic scholarships to local, state and national contestants in 2014.

That makes Miss America the largest scholarship provider for young women, according to Stezala Consulting LLC, a national consultant hired by the MAO this year to assess its scholarship system. But it’s a far cry from the $45 million figure the organization has been using for years.

“After conducting extensive research through all 52 state organizations and the employment of a top educational analyst, we are pleased to provide full transparency in how our scholarships are awarded, the amounts awarded on an annual basis, and our plans to work with colleges and universities across this great country of ours to access more of what is made available each and every year,” Sam Haskell, president and CEO of the Miss America organization, said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The $6 million sum — actually $5.9 million — represents the first time the organization has provided a specific figure detailing its scholarship allotment.

For years, the organization said it “made available” $45 million in scholarship funding each year. But it was never made clear how much of that money was actually used by contestants on the national, state and local levels.

Then-President Sharon Pearce, who stepped down in February, said last year that the $45 million figure “represents both cash scholarships and the in-kind scholarship opportunities provided by academic partners nationwide who support the MAO and the young women in the program.”

Friday’s release confirmed this, adding that the sum combined every cash and in-kind tuition waiver made to contestants each year, whether or not the waivers were actually used.

Unlike cash, which can be tracked via bank statements and tax returns, waivers are not reflected in a tax return by the state or national organization, the release states.

The organization laid out an example with a theoretical contestant named Miss State. If Miss State won scholarships to three universities totaling $90,000, the organization had previously added $90,000 to its scholarship totals, even if Miss State only used one $30,000 award.

In 2014, more than 350 colleges and universities awarded in-kind tuition waivers to Miss America Competition participants, according to the statement. Each year, the MAO estimates 10,000 women participate in the organization’s competitions on the local, state and national levels.

The Press of Atlantic City requested Miss America scholarship information in the fall of 2014, but the organization did not provide a response at the time.

An estimate conducted by The Press identified about $2 million in annual scholarships given out at the state and national levels. Pearce said that number “significantly underestimates scholarships disbursed,” though she declined to provide an alternative total.

In July, The Press requested scholarship data again. None was provided, but the organization announced that Stezala had conducted “a comprehensive audit of our scholarship award process and systems” and was working to improve them.

In September 2014, comedian John Oliver made the Miss America Organization’s scholarship program the major focus of his half-hour HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” criticizing its lack of transparency.

Oliver, however, also noted that the organization’s scholarship totals likely exceeded those of other leading women-specific programs.

By comparison, in 2014, the Society of Women Engineers provided about $721,000 in scholarship funding to 232 individuals, while the Jeannette Rankin Foundation gave out about $174,000 to 87 women.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Contact: 609-272-7256

Twitter @ACPress_Tracey

Print Director

Press copy editor since 2006, copy desk chief since 2014. Masters in journalism from Temple University, 2006. My weekly comics blog, Wednesday Morning Quarterback, appears Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com.

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