Inspectors failed almost a third of further education colleges offering higher education courses that were reviewed this year.
The higher education watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency, says 14 out of 45 colleges inspected received "failing judgements".
Not all of the inspection reports have been published yet.
The quality watchdog oversees the more than 200 FE colleges that are allowed to provide higher education courses.
Tens of thousands of lower-cost degree places - with fees of £7,500 or less - have been allocated to colleges in England rather than universities.
When limits on student numbers are completely removed next year, it is likely that the expansion will include more places in further education colleges.
But the inspections of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) found failings in about 30% of colleges scrutinised this year.
They were classed as "requires improvement to meet expectations" or "does not meet expectations".
This was based on the same review process used in universities, rather than the different system previously used for colleges.
But the inspections also found that among the colleges that passed a "relatively high proportion" received "commended" judgements.
The QAA is expected to publish an analysis of its inspection findings next month.
Nick Davy, higher education policy manager for the Association of Colleges, said that only a very small proportion of all the individual judgements across these further education colleges were failures.
He also said there was not enough information yet to compare these further education colleges with universities going through the same new inspection process.
Mr Davy added the Association of Colleges was working with the QAA "to help colleges understand the process fully".
"It is also the case that 20% of colleges are experiencing commendations, with agricultural colleges doing particularly well," said Mr Davy.
The quality-checking system for higher education is itself facing an overhaul.
Last week, the higher education funding councils announced that for the first time the inspection system was to be put out to competitive public tender.
It follows major changes in the university sector - with more consumer pressure from students paying higher tuition fees and an increasing number of private providers needing to be overseen.
The QAA, running the current system, is expected to bid for the new quality assurance contract, which will begin from 2017.