With 60 per cent of college principals due to retire in the next 10 years, the centre has revealed that 50 per cent of senior managers and 40 per cent of middle managers in colleges are aged over 50.
A CEL report, Building future talent: leaders for tomorrow, says many providers report that the talent needed "is simply not coming forward".
In a bid to tackle the problem the CEL has been running leadership training programmes.
Nearly 3,000 people have taken part, way above the target 520, Lynne Sedgmore, the CEL's chief executive, told delegates at its annual conference.
Eight of the 57 people who have completed senior leadership development programmes have since become college principals.
Ms Sedgmore added: "We are passionate about the leadership impact on student success."