In Lloyd George's day, they were bought for up to pound;100,000 each. John Major wanted street cleaners and lollipop ladies to be nominated for them.
But David Collins, principal of South Cheshire college, in Crewe, has found a new route to obtain an honour: attacking government policy.
In January, he said plans to place more 14 to 16-year-olds in FE colleges would spread discipline problems, create child protection issues and undermine the adult ethos of colleges.
He told FE Focus at the time: "I don't think some items have been thought through properly. The child protection issue is difficult. The funding has certainly not been thought through either.
"I might be kissing goodbye to the knighthood and the OBE, but it is important to say it."
But Whitehall mandarins seemed to show an unexpected tendency to forgive and forget by awarding him a CBE in the Queen's birthday honours, for services to further education.
His status as principal of the Office for Standards in Education's favourite college, which has the highest number of outstanding ratings, may have helped.
Meanwhile, the top civil servant in further education, Janice Shiner, has been made a Companion in the Order of the Bath.
She has been director-general of lifelong learning at the Department for Education and Skills since 2002, and was honoured just as she prepares to move to New Zealand to head the country's further and higher education body.
The daughter of a bus driver in Catford, south-east London, she won a scholarship to a fee-paying girls' grammar school but left at 17, before returning to education as a lecturer, and eventually rising to be principal of Leicester college in 1999.
She said: "I was just amazed and surprised and delighted.
"It's something you never even think is going to happen to you. I was shocked, but pleased that my contribution to post-16 education was recognised, and that the contribution of the whole FE sector was recognised as well.
"I had a father who believed in me and and gave me a real sense of purpose and confidence.
"When I was younger, I thought I could rule the world, but I don't think I knew there were such things as honours and director-general posts.
"As the daughter of a working-class family, I would have thought they weren't for me. I've broken a lot of these barriers in my career."
Another honoured FE employee is dinner lady Janette Bunn was awarded an MBE after 29 years' work in the refectory of Barking college. The college estimates that she has helped to produce 120 million meals during that time - first as a cook, and then as manager - without ever taking a day off sick.
Honours also went to other principals whose colleges were named as outstanding by Ofsted.
Jackie Fisher, principal of Newcastle college, was awarded a CBE. James Horrocks, from Barnfield college in Luton, got the MBE. His college was the first to receive Ofsted's highest rating after ditching A-levels to concentrate on vocational education.
The trouble-shooting principal Tony Pitcher was also given a CBE. He became a controversial figure after joining the debt-ridden West Hertfordshire college and telling 600 staff to re-apply for their jobs.
FULL EDUCATION HONOURS LIST NOW AT WWW.TES.CO.UK