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Date Posted: 12:35:37 07/27/15 Mon
Miss America Scholarship Details Remain Unclear
Posted: Sunday, July 26, 2015 6:20 am
JOHN V. SANTORE
2016 Miss America
The Miss America Organization is changing how it operates its scholarship program — but isn't saying how.
The pageant organization declined to provide specific data in July on the size and impact of its scholarship program, seven months after The Press was first denied that information.
Last fall, the organization declined to share either state-by-state or national statistics detailing the annual scholarships it awards to pageant contestants.
Prior to facing scrutiny in 2014 from comedian John Oliver, who criticized the organization's scholarship claims during an episode of his weekly television show on HBO, Miss America routinely referenced $45 million in scholarship money it "made available" each year.
Instead, in January, former Miss America Organization President Sharon Pearce said the organization was working with "an independent consultant" to assess its scholarship program. Pearce said she expected the review to be "completed within the next several months."
Pearce stepped down from the Miss America Organization in February.
But when The Press asked the group again for scholarship statistics, the organization didn't offer them.
Instead, it released a statement saying that this year, Miss America "underwent a comprehensive audit of our scholarship award process and systems" conducted by Stezala Consulting, LLC, "a national leader in the design, evaluation, and improvement of scholarship programs." "While still ongoing, we are excited for the improvements and efficiencies brought to the organization throughout this process, including the development of online tracking and a database through Salesforce," the statement read.
The pageant organization's statement also said it "provides millions of dollars in scholarship assistance to women on an annual basis," including "academic and community-based scholarships for undergraduate and graduate studies, as well as endowed scholarships for those young women attending medical school, working in special areas for military service awareness, and in the performing arts."
Kim Stezala, president of Stezala Consulting, provided an additional statement, describing the Miss America scholarship awards as "flexible and very relevant to higher education today" and "adhering to all of the U.S. Department of Education policies on scholarships."
For the sake of comparison, The Press requested scholarship data from two other established women's scholarship programs — the Jeannette Rankin Foundation and the Society of Women Engineers.
The Rankin Foundation, which gives scholarships to low income women 35 and older, according to its website, provided a document listing 87 award winners from 2014, each of whom received $2,000, for a total of $174,000.
Bentley Worthy, a spokeswoman for the group, said three people used their awards for living expenses, and the rest were sent directly to the colleges to help cover tuition and fees.
The SWE provides scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students studying engineering, engineering technology,and computer science both in Mexico and the United States, according to its website.
For the 2014-15 academic year, it awarded 232 scholarships totaling $721,300, said Marcia Lampela, one of the organization's managers.
"We sent the scholarship checks directly to the schools, and we reaward any scholarships that are returned," Lampela added.
The society's website also lists past award recipients going back to the 2001-02 academic year, including their award and major.
Last year, in an attempt to produce award totals for Miss America, The Press reviewed publicly available tax forms and websites connected to state Miss America groups and the national organization.
Guidestar, an online database of financial information for nonprofits, contained tax forms listing scholarship information for about half of the state groups.
The Miss America website listed the competitors who won scholarships at the national level, along with the scholarship sums, though it didn't state whether the money was used for an academic purpose. That remains true today.
A review of state group websites found an array of reporting on display. Some websites shared current information, while others were several years out of date or didn't list scholarship data.
These data sources totaled about $2 million in annual scholarship awards.
In early January, Pearce, the former Miss America CEO, said that rough estimate "significantly underestimates scholarships disbursed" by the organization, although she didn't explain why or by how much.
Even the $2 million sum would make Miss America a leading provider of scholarships for women. However, it is also at odds with the group's past public statements concerning its scholarship program.
Pearce wrote in December that Miss America never claimed to give out $45 million each year.
Rather, she said the sum "represents both cash scholarships and the in-kind scholarship opportunities provided by academic partners nationwide who support MAO and the young women in the program."
As of September, 2014, the Miss America website stated that the organization "offers more than $40 million in scholarships to its competitors," although that language was soon replaced with a claim that it "offers millions in scholarships to its competitors" annually.
That statement was still in place as of this July.
Contact: 609-272-7251 JSantore@pressofac.com
Background video from John Oliver: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDPCmmZifE8
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