Sunday night, John Oliver, host of HBO's Last Week Tonight, eviscerated the Miss America competition for its misogyny and misleading claims about the amount of scholarship money it doles out to women.
Though Miss America officials claim to make $45 million in scholarships available to contestants -- the pageant promotes itself as "the world's largest provider of scholarships for women," in fact -- the money it actually provides is just a fraction of that.
According to Oliver and his staff, in 2012, the Miss America Foundation and Miss America Organization actually spent $482,000 on scholarships. You'd have to add a couple zeros to get anywhere near $44.5 million.
When scholarships given out by the 33 state-level Miss America organizations for which tax records were available were factored in, the total number rose to north of $3 million, but that's still about 15 times short of the amount of scholarship money Miss America claims to make available.
What explains the discrepancy? Slate, citing Oliver's reporting, breaks it down nicely:
That $45 million number? Miss America gets to it by "offering" a handful of winners scholarships to multiple colleges--even though each winner will conceivably enroll at just one school--then counting each scholarship offer in its total sum to get to $45 million, whether they've actually paid out or not. Miss Alabama, for example, claimed to provide nearly $2.6 million in scholarship money to just one college, Troy University, in 2012; Troy told Oliver that because no Miss Alabama contestants accepted a scholarship at the university that year, the actual sum paid out to women was $0.Watch the segment for yourself:
At about the 11:45 mark, Oliver, while suggesting viewers donate to other organizations so Miss America can no longer claim to be the world's largest provider of scholarships for women, gives a shoutout to the Society of Women Engineers .
That was music to the ears of Elizabeth Bierman, a Twin Cities resident who currently serves as president of the organization.
Bierman, a senior project engineer at Honeywell Aerospace in Coon Rapids, tell us traffic to the Society of Women Engineers' website spiked by 9,000 percent during the 36 hours after Oliver's segment aired.
Bierman says someone from Last Week Tonight reached out to her last week and let her know the Society of Women Engineers might receive some publicity during the show.
"They called last week and said, 'We're thinking of putting you in the script but we don't know how it's gonna play out,' so we were anticipating something Sunday night," she says. "When it aired, we made the final cut, and we're very pleased with that."
We asked Bierman whether all the traffic might translate into dollars and cents for her organization, which last year spread out about $700,000 between 230 scholarships.
(For more, including a statement from the Miss America Organization, click to page two.)
"You know, I really hope so, because a lot of conversations are going on about the importance of STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] education and I hope that people heard about the the Society of Women Engineers who hadn't heard of our organization before and want to come back," Bierman replies. "It's probably a blip for this week but hopefully it'll sustain interest about STEM education."
Meanwhile, the Miss America Organization released a statement addressing Oliver's report. Here it is in its entirety:
John Oliver reaffirmed that the Miss America Organization (MAO) is the largest scholarship organization for women when he stated the number of scholarship dollars claimed "...is more than any other women-only scholarship we could find."h/t -- Vox
We highlight the impressive, generous $45 million in scholarships made available in an effort to honor every one of our academic partners nationwide who make available cash and in-kind financial opportunities to the MAO and young women who participate in the program. Each year, more than 8,000 young women compete for scholarships through the volunteer, grassroots-driven Miss America pageant system in more than 950 local, state, and national competitions. These scholarships are awarded not just to winners of each pageant but to runners-up and participants.
As with any scholarship, the full amount awarded may not always be used as recipients' plans change or evolve. The Miss America Organization works every day to administer these scholarships to young women across the country and encourages our participants to utilize these scholarships provided by colleges and universities nationally who partner to fund education.
The Miss America Organization is dedicated to improving the opportunities available to our program participants and remaining at the forefront of providing opportunities to women.