Commercial savviness, community engagement and a focus on value for money has helped Hadlow College earn a financial stability award, according to its financial director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor.
The land-based college in Kent won the public sector category in the inaugural Finance for the Future Awards, presented by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales recently.
The judges described Hadlow College as "a role model for a Government institution, combining commercial initiatives with public-sector principles".
Lumsdon-Taylor, who helped turn around the struggling institution over the past 10 years, said: "It's hard to maintain transformations, but this shows that we are still doing things differently and thinking outside the box."
He said that much of the turnaround had been achieved at the college's Court Lane nursery, where "hundreds of thousands" were spent reconditioning it.
From being a drain on the college's resources, it now turns over a profit of more than £80,000 a year from a range of commercial activities, he added.
Overall, the college now generates a third of revenue from such activities, including running a fruit tree planting business that has already planted 10ha of orchards. It also grows bedding plants for local authorities in the area and hosts a regional milk suppliers group.
"We convey to students that what they do has to pay for itself," said Lumsdon-Taylor. "We make sure that they are employable when they leave - they don't have to be retrained once they start work."
This ethos has been continued in the college's new three-year apprenticeship scheme, which is industry-sponsored and therefore free of the restrictions which state funding would impose.
Hadlow's impact on the local community and wider region, including supporting a local vegetable growing group, was also a factor in winning the award, said Lumsdon-Taylor.
Student enrolments Upcoming year robust
Hadlow College financial director Mark Lumsdon-Taylor described student enrolments for the upcoming academic year as very robust. He said work-based learning was up 15 per cent and core further education was up 25 per cent.
Meanwhile, in the wake of funding changes to higher education, the college is "holding track, down but less so than others and still recruiting", he said.
"We have made degree courses more affordable by running them over two rather than three years," he added.