Now in its 16th year, the Beacon Awards recognised and rewarded the excellence, innovation and outstanding teaching and learning practices of 23 colleges nationally.
Dame Patricia Morgan-Webb, chair of the AoC Beacon Awards, said: "Beacon winners blaze a trail in finding new ways of doing things; they contribute to social justice and are instrumental in local economic and social regeneration, essential during these turbulent times."
Meanwhile, former Royal Marine Thomas Birch, who studied at South Nottinghamshire College after recovering from near-fatal injuries sustained in Afghanistan, has won first prize in the Association of Colleges' Student of the Year Awards.
Mr Birch had to learn to walk and talk again following severe head injuries, but perseverance and support from staff at South Nottinghamshire saw Mr Birch complete levels 2 and 3 personal trainer courses.
In second place was Sheryl Wombell, whose inoperable heart condition did not stop her from winning a place at Cambridge University after completing studies at Lincoln College.
Joint third was Edinah Chagonda, who fled Zimbabwe in 2003 and, thanks to an access to higher education course at Grantham College, retrained as a mental health nurse at the University of Nottingham.
Also third was Rebecca Craig, who was homeless from the age of 16 but is now studying at Tyne Metropolitan College and aims to become a teacher.