Treloar college was the first specialist centre to win Beacon status, and inspectors have described its provision and students' achievement as outstanding.
Its campus in Alton, Hampshire, caters for students with disabilities and learning difficulties aged 16-25. It is a success story, but one that relies on charity.
While most of Treloar's 173 students are funded by the Learning and Skills Council, principal Dr Graham Jowett says this doesn't always cover the rising cost of providing for students with the most complex needs. But the funding the trust receives from local education authorities for under-16s, and from the Learning and Skills Council for post-16 students, leaves an annual shortfall of between 10 and 15 per cent.
It has to find an additional pound;2 million a year from fundraising for capital projects, specialist facilities and activities, some staff posts and investment in new technology.
Its funds come from a range of activities - everything from charity balls and sponsored marathons to bids for grants. It depends on a small army of people across the country who stage charity events and generally rattle the tin.
Almost all the students live in college during term time and about 30 attend mainstream courses at nearby Alton college. Programmes include basic skills, vocational courses and academic subjects.
It also has self-contained flats where students can practise living independently. Its facilities include a learning resources centre built in 2001 with trust funding. Specialist colleges say the system has not kept pace with the increasing cost of students' needs.
As general FE colleges have taken increasing numbers of disabled students, specialist colleges such as Treloar have found themselves taking a higher proportion of students with very complex needs. Three-quarters of its students have cerebral palsy and there are other disabilities such as spina bifida and muscular dystrophy.