Concerns have been expressed after the Office for National Statistics announced that further education colleges will be reclassified as full public bodies from 1 April.
This will mean that all colleges' income and expenditure will count as part of the Scottish government's budget, which could affect colleges' spending decisions and management of reserves, according to the Scottish government.
Despite being largely publicly funded, colleges raise about a quarter of their income from other sources and can either hold on to this as reserves or invest the funds.
John Henderson, Colleges Scotland chief executive, said that the decision could "restrict and act as a disincentive to colleges continuing their commercial and international activity, which benefits both employers and learners".
Education secretary Michael Russell also criticised the change, saying that the reclassification of colleges was "unwelcome and unhelpful".
He said that the Scottish government was "committed to working with the sector to make changes in a way that minimises their negative impact".