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Miss America’s Padded Scholarship Claims

The stranger-than-fiction development of hard news being reported by comedy show “anchors” continues this fall with John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” raising the question of whether the Miss America Pageant really provides $45 million in scholarships annually.

Oliver’s staff collected IRS 990 forms for 33 states and, making generous assumptions for the states they didn’t contact, estimated the number was less than $4 million, a $40 million Miss America gap.

Turns out it’s all in the phrasing. The pageant describes itself as “the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women.” That word “provider” is key. Every school scholarship that a pageant contestant could take is counted, despite the impossibility of attending college in 50 states at a time.

Troy University served as a good example for the Miss Alabama Pageant, which claimed in its 2012 filings that it provided nearly $2.6 million to Troy University, multiplying the value of a single scholarship by the 48 competitors who could theoretically accept it. 

How much did Troy University actually get that year? Not a thing, according to Oliver’s research. 

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