The study says more could be done to link youth work activities with key skills development or core curriculum subjects. This would be most effective in vocational qualifications where students need to demonstrate practical experience.
The study of 10 colleges by the National Youth Agency and the Further Education Development Agency, found that some students were losing out by not recording attainments in their National Records of Achievements. These included involvement in sport, the arts or the students' union.
The study follows a recent report by the Office for Standards in Education which found that the methods of evaluating the results of youth work in the FE sector needed developing. Inspectors found that in colleges where students influenced decision-making and were given responsibilities, they showed greater self-esteem and maturity.
The author, Jenny Hand, found 10 key areas where youth workers were supporting students and colleges. These included curriculum enhancement, counselling, mentoring, security work, equal opportunities policies, and recruitment and retention of students.
She said many examples of good practice had been found.
In one college students collaborated with youth workers on a video to raise awareness of HIV and Aids. This involved role-playing, script-writing, location filming, set and costume design and production which they were able to credit to their GNVQ media studies course or enter into their NRAs.
In another college, the support and advice of a youth worker stopped 50 students dropping out.
Tom Wylie, the chief executive of the NYA, said: "Youth services and FE are natural partners and we are confident this report will help to extend the range and quality of joint initiatives still further."