The Sixth Form Colleges Employers Forum (SFCEF) says its members have been swamped by mounting costs, including increased national insurance and pensions commitments, leaving some facing deficits of up to pound;400,000 for 20034.
It took the SFCEF two years to get lecturers' pay up to that of schoolteachers but, next year, they are destined to slip behind unless other cuts can be made.
Sue Witham, head of the SFCEF secretariat, said Margaret Hodge, until recently the further and higher education minister, had recognised the need for more funding.
Ms Witham said: "There are a lot of angry colleges out there. We will have to make some difficult choices. We had hoped our meeting with the Department for Education and Skills on Friday would have resulted in some money to provide some easement because of increasing costs."
Friday's meeting was also attended by David Igoe, vice-chairman of the SFCEF, and Peter Mucklow, divisional manager at the DfES.
In a letter to Mr Mucklow, Mr Igoe expressed colleges' frustration at the lack of progress on funding.
It said: "Sue and I left the meeting feeling both depressed and annoyed. I was depressed at having once again to argue for a fair deal only to discover that fairness and equity were not on the table.
"We were also left wondering why some colleges and ourselves had been put to such time and effort in advance of this meeting, when it was obvious by the end that there was going to be no change."
The SFCEF regarded itself as having good industrial relations but fears this will be threatened as principals are forced to take action to rescue the projected deficits for the coming year.
Mr Igoe wrote: "I am not being alarmist in suggesting that our good industrial relations with the teaching unions will evaporate. This issue could also have repercussions on the future of the national negotiating machinery itself as colleges decide individually to opt out of the SFCEF."
The SFCEF says performance pay for lecturers is also threatened. It says colleges have been given pound;16.4 million for the third year of the scheme but need pound;18m to cover their costs.
It warned the DfES in March that anything less than pound;18m would make it difficult to implement performance pay in full.