College staff unions in England have rejected a pay offer of 2% from August plus 0.5% from next January.
The unions UCU, GMB, T&G, Unison, ACM and ATL want a "significant" increase.
They said the offer by the Association of Colleges fell short of the 2.5% rise this year to school teachers - whose unions are also now arguing for more.
Consumer price inflation was 2.8% last month and the Retail Prices Index was 4.5%. The government wants public sector pay rises kept under 2%.
The college unions are due to meet the employers again on 26 June and have called for a revised offer.
The employers' side has also offered talks on a national guideline agreement on workloads.
Joint union negotiator Barry Lovejoy of the University and College Union, said: "I am pleased we seem to be making some progress on the non-pay issues of workloads and staff development but a pay offer of this level is clearly unacceptable.
"This does not help to close the pay gap with school teachers."
Unison's Christine Lewis said support staff would be "underwhelmed" by a small percentage offer which made very little difference to those on low pay.
"The employers promised to return to their employment committee to consider a new offer with a combination of lump sum and percentage to underpin the lower points of the national scale.
"We hope that a sense of fair play in pay will prevail."
The deputy chief executive of the Association of Colleges, Sue Dutton, said colleges were reviewing their funding allocations for next year.
"We look forward to re-engaging with unions in June and continuing the process."