Senior management of more than 80 of the 105 sixth-form colleges in England met last week to discuss how a pay freeze, the first in 10 years since the colleges were removed from local authority control, could be averted.
The meeting revealed that extra cash had been made available during the summer, but a decision about how much of this can be transferred to teachers' pay packets has yet to be made.
Sue Witham, head of the secretariat of the Sixth Form Colleges Employers Forum, said colleges reported that they had received between pound;10,000 and pound;100,000 in extra cash since their last meeting at the end of the summer term.
She added: "Some additional funding has filtered through to colleges over the summer months in amounts that vary college by college.
"We now have to discuss with the unions to explore with them what we can or cannot afford.
"We are not feeling quite so desperate as we were at the end of the summer term. We are trying to come up with some figures to take into negotiations."
Teachers in sixth-form colleges were due a pay rise this September in the third stage of a three-year pay award, but the rise has been blocked because of a cash crisis.
Though colleges were awarded a record 19 per cent funding increase last autumn, most of the extra money has been swallowed up by rising national insurance and pensions costs, and by mounting debt.
The employers forum and the teachers' unions sent a joint letter to Alan Johnson, the further and higher education minister, pleading for extra funding to meet the rise to be made available to colleges. A meeting was held with the minister at which he gave "no guarantees".
Joe Boone, who is handling negotioations for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "We are waiting for an offer to be put to us next week, which we hope will match the 2.9 per cent rise schoolteachers were awarded in April.
"We have always managed to do a deal in the past, even when financial conditions have been tougher than now."