Further education leaders in Scotland want colleges to be made a special case and exempted from the charities legislation.
The Association of Scotland's Colleges has written to the Scottish Government saying this is essential if they are to continue to receive the benefits of charitable status in rates and tax relief, estimated to be worth between pound;20 million and pound;50 million for colleges each year.
There are only two options if this support is to continue: the one favoured by the ASC and the other forbidding ministers to intervene in the running of colleges, which is incompatible with being a charity.
But any move to make colleges fully independent of government would have prevented ministers' right to take action in the event of any mismanagement, and was opposed by the unions.
A test case by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator earlier this year found that John Wheatley College in Glasgow had failed the charities test because of the ministerial powers to which it was subject. The regulator did accept the college had exclusively charitable purposes and provided substantial benefit.
The ASC has decided that Scottish colleges should be exempt from the legislation, which would bring them into line with those in England and with bodies such as the National Collections of Scotland, the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
Howard McKenzie, acting chief executive of the ASC, said: "The Scottish Government has made clear that safeguarding charitable status for Scotland's colleges is one of their key strategic objectives. With our legal advisers, we have considered the complex legislation which establishes colleges' governance procedures. It appears that making special provision for colleges under the law is the best way this can be achieved."