, Miss American Scholarship Pagean
Whitney Merrifield, Miss Utah 2009, competes in the Miss America Scholarship Pageant in Las Vegas. Photo by Miss American Scholarship Pageant

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The Miss America Organization says it handed out nearly $6 million in cash or free tuition to contestants last year in its scholarship awards program.

Figures released Friday represent a change in the way the pageant describes its scholarships.

In the past, the group said it made up to $45 million available in annual scholarships. But the figure didn't represent money actually paid out or used by contestants.

Miss America and its state organizations gave more than $5.9 million in cash awards or tuition waivers to contestants across the country last year.

In 2014, more than 350 colleges and universities across the country awarded in-kind tuition waivers to Miss America contestants.

The revised reporting comes nearly a year after TV comedian John Oliver questioned the group's scholarship payout claims.