Colleges say better teaching is behind students' improved results. Steve Hook reports
The number of qualifications gained by students has increased since the Learning and Skills Council took responsibility for funding.
The "success rates" have improved by 3 percentage points in general FE, 2 points in sixth-form colleges and 5 points in work-based learning.
The figures are based on the number of qualifications being achieved between 20012, when the LSC took over from the Further Education Funding Council, and 20023.
The figures also suggest progress towards the Government's goal of improved adult skills - with a 4 percentage point increase in success at level 2 (equivalent to a GCSE grade A*-C) and a 3-point increase at level 3 (A-level grade A-C).
Mark Haysom, chief executive of the LSC, said: "This is an excellent result and I congratulate all concerned. The work we're doing at national level to drive down bureaucracy is freeing up resources in the local communities we serve.
He said colleges and work-based training will improve at an even faster rate as the LSC is restructured, with more power for the regions, and less red tape.
There has been a significant improvement among minority groups, which have traditionally underperformed, but now appear to be closing the gap.
All ethnic groups have improved their performance, says the LSC.
The figures show success rates improving from 50 per cent to 61 per cent among black African learners, from 52 per cent to 65 per cent among Bangladeshis and from 60 per cent to 67 per cent among the disabled.
Alan Johnson, minister for lifelong learning, said: "The increase in success rates for all ethnic minority groups is particularly pleasing.
"Improving outcomes for learners and qualifications in the workforce will continue to be a top priority for us and we look to providers to develop a strong culture of continuous improvement to make this a reality."
The Association of Colleges welcomed the figures, which it put down to the quality of teaching by colleges and others, including training companies and work-based providers.
While it claims to be unsurprised by the figures, the association says they will help colleges in their efforts to recruit more students.
Judith Norrington, AoC director of curriculum and quality, said: "The LSC has provided the framework for this success but the real people who have brought it about are the lecturers, for providing the environment where people can succeed, and the students, through their own hard work.
"The figures will be particularly encouraging for students because they will feel, rightly, that they are part of a wider success story."
The figures also show an increase in success in Modern Apprenticeships, although these programmes have suffered from high drop-out rates compared with full-time college courses.
And there was no change in the success rate at specialist colleges from 20013 to 20033.
The figures show that female students are more likely to complete courses than males across the range of subjects.
In engineering, females are the minority but did better than males. In hairdressing, where most of the students are female, women still outperformed their male rivals.