Former Association of Colleges president Patricia Bacon headed a strong contingent of representatives from further education who were recognised in the 2011 New Year Honours list.
The principal of St Helens College was made a dame in recognition of her services to FE at local and national levels.
She has been principal at the college for more than eight years, during which time it has expanded to take on 15,000 students.
Ms Bacon, also chairman of Lifelong Learning UK, told The TES that she regarded her time at the helm of the AoC, of which she is still a board member, in 200910 as the pinnacle of her career.
"I was stunned when I got the letter," she said. "It was the hardest thing to keep it to myself until it was officially announced.
"My time as president of the AoC was an amazing experience, and it was a great honour to represent FE at the highest level of government.
"I am passionately committed to FE. Colleges make a huge contribution to society, and it's great to see the sector get such recognition."
Richard Parker, who recently retired as principal of Chichester College, was made a CBE, along with Ali Hadawi, Diane Roberts and Ambrose Smith, principals of Southend Adult Community College, Brockenhurst College in Hampshire and Aquinas Sixth Form College in Stockport, respectively.
Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group of colleges, said: "The orders reflect the passion and commitment of the recipients in championing learning for all age groups and acknowledge the significance of further education in the improvement of society in general."
Paul Phillips had an extra reason to celebrate being made an OBE, as the accolade coincides with the 10th anniversary of his becoming principal of Weston College.
Since Dr Philips took over the once struggling institution, it has trebled in size and seen a sizable improvement in students' attainment.
Several college staff below principal level also received recognition, including Teresa Esan, director of employability and employer engagement at City and Islington College, London.
For a full list of all MBE and OBE winners, see www.tes.co.uk
HONOURS IN FE
Patricia Bacon, principal, St Helens College
Ali Hadawi, principal, Southend Adult Community College
Richard Parker, former principal, Chichester College.
Diane Roberts, principal, Brockenhurst College
Ambrose Smith, principal, Aquinas Sixth Form College
Michael Field, chair of governors, Great Yarmouth College
Paul Phillips, principal and chief executive, Weston College
Sue Rimmer, principal, South Thames College
Helen Sexton, former principal and chief executive, National Star College
David Waddington, former principal, Hartlepool College of Further Education
Paul Williams, chairman, Deeside College Corporation
Jean Wilson, principal and chief executive, South Thames College
Elizabeth Barron, curriculum manager for science and sport, Inverness College
Teresa Esan, director of employability and employer engagement, City and Islington College
Brian Hill, head of school of engineering and science, Northern Regional College
Brian Litherland, lecturer in electrical engineering, Castle College
Alan Pluck, former chairman, SEEVIC College
Helen Sage, former programme co-ordinator, City of Bristol College
June Tracey, chair, Xaverian College
Derek Truffas, clerk to the corporation, Ashton Sixth Form College.