Almost a quarter of colleges have no student governor and some are flouting rules saying they must find an alternative way to represent students' views.
The first full survey on student representation on college boards, carried out by the National Union of Students, reveals 106 governing bodies have no student member.
Under guidelines from the Further Education Funding Council, colleges are not obliged to include a student governor. However, they must find another means of ensuring students' voices are heard "at all levels in the college".
Of those colleges without a student governor, eight gave students observer places on the board and 17 17 used a sub-committee to the board to hear students' views.
However, 24 of those surveyed told the NUS they provided no system for conveying student opinion to the corporation. The union suspects others among the 106 without a student governor, who opted not to give more detail, may also have no alternative procedure.
Danny Douglas, NUS vice-president, said the union would pursue the 24 colleges and had already alerted the FEFC that its rules on governance were being flouted.
He said: "According to our definition, student representation on a college's academic board is not enough."
The NUS survey also revealed many colleges were reviewing their position, with some considering appointing student governors.
Calderdale College in Halifax has just carried out a review and opted to expand its governing body from 12 to 18, providing a place for an elected student governor Ron Hill, assistant principal, said experience with student governors before incorporation had exposed difficulties caused by fast turnover as student board members moved on. For three years, the college had used a variety of means to convey student views to the corporation. But now it hoped that a permanent board seat would give students a greater say in the development of the college.