Preferred Name

Courtney B. Sanders

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Graduate Psychology


John D. Hathcoat

Keston H. Fulcher

S. Jeanne Horst


Student engagement is a complex construct that is thought to be related to positive outcomes during and after college. Previous research has defined engagement in diverse ways and there are inconsistencies in the models that are used to measure this construct. Many studies have used a reflective measurement model (i.e., exploratory or confirmatory factor analysis), wherein changes in a latent construct are thought to precede and in some sense, explain variation in observed variables. Others have argued that engagement is best measured using a formative model in which the relationship flows in the opposite direction. In other words, within formative measurement variation in observed indicators precedes, and can in some sense either create or cause a construct. A clear rationale has not been provided for the use of either measurement model. In the current study, I therefore sought to compare a series of reflective and formative measurement models using the Gallup-Purdue Index (GPI; Gallup-Purdue, 2014), an under-examined national instrument that has defined student engagement as three inter-related, albeit distinct, latent constructs: institutional support, institutional attachment, and experiential learning. For the investigation, data were collected from alumni who attended a mid-sized southeastern university and graduated with a bachelor’s degree between 1996 and 2005. The current study occurred within three stages. First, an exploratory factor analysis of GPI engagement items was investigated using a random subsample of 349 respondents. This was followed by the second stage wherein three competing models were tested using confirmatory factor analysis on a random subsample of 700 students. Finally, three formative models were also examined using the second subsample. Results of the analyses provided support for a reflective model of the GPI engagement items. Implications are offered regarding the use of formative and reflective approaches and the conceptualization of student engagement.



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