Efficiency gains sought by employers and implemented by managers have led to the unkindness cut of all: loss of their own jobs.
New responsibilities of incorporation in finance, personnel and estate management - previously the concern of local authorities - have opened up major new areas for senior managers and encouraged the rise of the external expert.
Executives with little or no FE experience have been brought in to manage the commercial interests of institutions with multi-million pound property portfolios and large budgets.
But according to Ian Mcwhinnie, president of the Association of CollegeManagers and principal of the College of North East London, the challenges faced by the vast majority of top and middle managers today have roots that go a lot further back.
"In the 1980s there was a general feeling in Government that college management was not up to the job: Lord Young's White Paper in 1984 saying colleges knew nothing of the culture of work; the Audit Commission reports on college management efficiency and student retention. These put the sector under pressure to change long before incorporation."
Management culture had seen a major about turn since then - Education and Employment Secretary Gillian Shephard's recently-leaked briefing referred to further education as a "dynamic service" - but this dynamism has not been without cost, Mr Mcwhinnie believes.
Research by the ACM and the Association for Colleges shows that student to staff ratios have increased by 40 per cent since the mid-1980s: from 11:1 to 15:1. More students are taught by fewer staff. But efficiency gains are not reflected in junior management pay and conditions, Mr Mcwhinnie said.
"Numbers of managers are reduced as the lean organisation theory of the commercial world is applied to the sector.
"If the remaining junior and middle managers are expected to shoulder a heavier workload there should be better recognition and support given by employers," he added.
The trend towards professional managers who may have no previous experience of the FE sector is particularly apparent in senior posts. Roger Ward, chief executive of the Colleges' Employers' Forum, says the historic pattern for colleges to be led by curriculum and academic managers is being diluted.
"Since incorporation the issue of the day is no longer curriculum development - although that remains important - it is managing your budgets."
The majority of current managers had risen from the ranks before incorporation, but new appointments were increasingly going to people with management experience in industry or commerce.
As many as half the new jobs in middle and senior management are now going to people with no previous FE experience, Mr Ward said.
"The way to the top in FE is to contribute management skills and understanding of accountancy processes and new technology.
"People management, curriculum skills and knowledge of estate management are also important."
The CEF has a recruitment arm which aims to provide the calibre of management talent needed. But training and staff development by colleges must not be overlooked.
"The next explosion of investment in the sector is undoubtedly going to be in staff development," he said.
"The period of retrenchment is just about over and the next phase is reskilling those staff who want to stay in FE but don't have the skills for the promotion ladder."
Network Training, a large private FE training company, runs a range of one and two-day courses for staff wishing to move into management and for middle managers becoming accustomed to the greater workload and wider range of tasks expected of them under incorporation.
Network Training director Norman Dickie said: "Managers today must be able to manage time and money more effectively than in the local education authority days."
Teaching staff who wanted to move into management should look at the skills and experience they have and think about any additional training they need before applying for management, he said. Doing the job once there, is not as straightforward as it was.
The unions do not pull punches when describing the managers' lot today.
Dan Taubman, assistant secretary of the lecturers' union NATFHE, said: "Colleges today are not particularly nice places. There's a lot of pressure to deliver on fewer and fewer resources with higher numbers of students."
TES october 6 1995 "Colleges today are not particularly nice places. There's a lot of pressure to deliver on fewer and fewer resources with higher numbers of students"