Governing bodies feel they have no clear role, yet supervisory and inspection bodies have specific ideas on what they expect of them, the study shows.
Ron Hill, clerk to governors of four colleges, who conducted the survey, is now supporting the review of college governance proposed by the Department for Education and Skills (FE Focus, November 14).
His survey of 40 colleges in Yorkshire and Humberside showed that no two governing bodies gave the same three indicators of success when judging the performance of their college.
And the Learning and Skills Council, the Office for Standards in Education, the Adult Learning Inspectorate and auditors all have different performance checklists.
Dr Hill, of Leeds-based Ford and Warren Solicitors, said: "There is little direct communication with governors and the role appears to be marginalised."