Two candidates put themselves forward for the presidency of the Association of Colleges as nominations closed this week.
Nigel Robbins, principal of Cirencester College in Gloucestershire, and Pat Bacon, principal of St Helens College in Merseyside, will compete for election as the association's second president.
Ms Bacon has 30 years' experience in further education after making the career switch from working in retail, rising from lecturing, through roles in marketing, to become principal six years ago.
She said one of the priorities for the next president should be to continue to present the association as a united front.
"Absolutely key for the AoC is the reputation of the sector. I still don't feel colleges get the recognition that they deserve for what they achieve," she said.
Colleges faced an important year, with three major challenges on capital funding, revenue problems with 16 to 19 education and Train to Gain, and the uncertain future under local authority funding, she said. "But it does give the AoC a major role and its campaign over capital funding was very good."
Ms Bacon said: "I do feel that I've got broad support across the sector, not just from large FE colleges, but sixth form colleges, and the person who seconded me is principal of a land-based college, Meredith David from Reaseheath College in Cheshire." She is also backed by the influential Dame Ruth Silver, principal of Lewisham College in south-east London.
Mr Robbins, head of Cirencester College for the past 18 years, has been among the principals drawing attention to the failure of the capital funding system, with his college affected by the delays.
He was out of the country as FE Focus went to press, but Desna McAll, his vice-principal, said: "He is well known as a campaigning principal. He is both outspoken and forthright but always engages in any debate from a position of real understanding and analysis of the issues that affect the sector."
Supporters also credit him with research into funding in 2005 that prompted a parliamentary campaign on the gap between schools' and colleges' allocations.
Mr Robbins, who was made an OBE four years ago, has worked in further education for 25 years and in schools for seven years before that.
Working with Martin Doel, the AoC's chief executive, the president is expected to represent principals at meetings with government officials. John Bingham, chairman of the AoC, said: "The post was created to enhance further the AoC's work in developing policy, building reputation, and influencing partners and stakeholders on behalf of members, and it has worked demonstrably well."
Ballots will be sent out, to be returned by May 1. The new president will assume office on August 1, taking over from David Collins, principal of South Cheshire College.