Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership, Research and Counseling

Document Type



The purpose of this mixed method study was to explore epistemological beliefs of students as well as those of their instructors to determine how epistemological congruence or incongruence shapes students’ experiences. The term, “epistemological congruency” is introduced to conceptualize the similarities or differences between students’ and teachers’ epistemological beliefs. Further, the study considers how students’ grades, integration into the academic community, and intentions to persist are related to epistemological congruency between teacher and student. Students and faculty at a community college in the Southeastern United States participated in the study. The theoretical framework for this study is based on Tinto’s (1973, 1987, 1993) theory of student departure and Schommer’s (1990, 1994) theory of epistemological beliefs. The Epistemic Beliefs Inventory (EBI) (Schraw, Dunkle & Bendixen, 1995; Schraw, Bendixen, & Dunkle, 2002), based on Schommer’s (1990) theory of epistemological beliefs, was administered to the participants to determine where their beliefs lie on the five factors. Based on their responses, epistemological difference (ED) scores between student and teacher were determined. First, four students having the highest levels of congruence with the liberal arts instructor and four students with the lowest levels of congruence were chosen. Second, students chose other instructors they felt more or less “in sync” with in comparison to the liberal arts instructor. All participating students and faculty completed the EBI and were interviewed to further expand on their epistemological beliefs. Students were interviewed on two occasions. These interviews centered on students’ epistemological beliefs, interactions with their instructors, and facets of academic integration. Each student was presented as a case and based on cross case analysis, several themes emerged from data analysis. Some key themes emerged that indicated epistemological congruence affected students’ diverse experiences in the classroom: 1) students who were considered highly congruent with the liberal arts instructor faired better in the course, 2) a disconnect or miscommunication existed between teachers’ intentions of teaching methods and students’ perceptions of those intentions, and 3) likeability, personality characteristics and/or teaching styles influenced students’ performance and intentions to persist. Implications for higher education and future research recommendations are discussed.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Becky Ropers-Huilman



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