Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), predicted a move towards an ivy league of top universities - already present in the Russell Group - and a system of community colleges offering further and higher education qualifications.
He said he would be concerned only if learning opportunities at some institutions were denied to all but the wealthy.
"I think we are going down the road in the UK of developing an American style of further and higher education," he told journalists.
Mergers of FE colleges and the growth of part-time and modular courses meant that "in 10 or 15 years' time people will say we've recreated the polytechnics and in 20 years' time a system of community colleges, just like the US."
He added: "A time will come when we won't see people applying for three- or four-year courses full-time. Increasing numbers will study part-time, using credit accumulation, credit transfer, moving in and out of HE as they can afford to, perhaps moving between institutions. There will be more opportunities to study locally, perhaps in community colleges."