The community colleges in Saskatchewan were the forerunners of what are known today as the province's regional colleges. In 1969 an advisory committee chaired by Ron Faris toured the province to obtain input from people on a so-called “middle-range educational program.” The recommendation of the Faris Report was to establish a grid of community centres of learning where local facilities, local instructors, and local resources would be utilized to provide learning opportunities as determined by the people themselves. It was a community development approach to adult education previously unseen in Canada. Based in many respects on the “folk schools” of Europe, these colleges eventually had 500 volunteer groups called the “local college committees,” which surveyed the region and told the colleges what the people wanted. Programs varied from university and technical school credit classes to courses of general interest, such as arts and crafts and local history.
The colleges program began in November 1972 when the Department of Continuing Education hired four developers: John Oussoren for the Yorkton-Melville area; Ken Rodenbush for the Humboldt area; Jake Kutarna for LaRonge and the northern area; and Stewart McPartlin for the Swift Current and southwest area. These were considered pilot projects: the developers were to nominate members for the first community college boards, make recommendations on the size of the regions to be served, and establish volunteer groups to advise on programs to be offered.
The Community Colleges Act was passed in May 1973, and the first four colleges went into operation. Rev. Bud Harper, a member of the first Faris Advisory Committee, chaired in 1974 a colleges review committee that launched the new series of five rural colleges. In 1975, the urban colleges in Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert were officially created, and boards were appointed. In the case of Prince Albert, the Prince Albert Regional Community College, under the chairmanship of Bishop Short of the Anglican Church and Principal Lorne Sparling, was brought into the provincial college structure. In the north, the La Ronge Regional Community College was divided into three distinct college regions in 1975, adding the West Side Community College (Buffalo Narrows) and North East Regional College (Creighton). In 1976, the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta agreed on a college centred in Lloydminster, the Lakeland College. This brought the total number of community colleges to fifteen. The Saskatchewan Indian Community College was officially created in 1976 - the first such Aboriginal post-secondary learning institution in Canada - and later was renamed the Saskatchewan Institute of Indian Technologies. The last area in the province in which the government provided direct delivery programming for adults, the Athabasca region, was transferred in 1983 from the Northern Continuing Education Branch to La Ronge Regional College. In 1987, the three northern colleges were amalgamated under “Northlands College.”
A count of program offerings and attendees at courses in 1976 indicated over 100,000 adults enrolled in over 10,000 courses. The informal motto of the college system was “The community is the college and the college is the community.”
In 1979, the Saskatchewan Community Colleges Trustees Association undertook a review of the community college system. The resulting report, A Better Tomorrow, recommended that government significantly expand the role of colleges. In 1986, articulation of a renewed policy framework for adult education in Saskatchewan, Preparing for the Year 2000: Adult Education in Saskatchewan, implemented several new initiatives to provide increased access to adult education programming. In 1987, the Regional Colleges Act replaced the Community Colleges Act (1972), changing the name of the colleges to “Regional Colleges”; with the change in name came changes in mandate. The new Act enabled colleges to offer: university and technical institute courses provided by way of a contract; programs that prepare individuals or provide education with respect to health or social issues; programs paid wholly or partly by business, non-government organizations, or government agencies; career services; adult basic education, and literacy and upgrading programs; and other educational activities that the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council may prescribe in the regulations.
The new mandate for colleges excluded general interest and recreation courses, and enabled the colleges to offer credit programs near rural residences, thereby altering the philosophy of colleges. More employment and skill training courses were to be offered, and interest programs were to be cost-recovered by tuitions. The influence for this change came largely from then Education Minister Lorne Hepworth's consultations on post-secondary education, carried out in 1986, which identified credit offerings on a decentralized basis as a priority. Community organizations were encouraged to take on general interest courses previously offered by community colleges.
The new legislation provided for eight regional colleges: Carlton Trail Regional College, Cumberland Regional College, North West Regional College, Prairie West Regional College, Parkland Regional College, North East Regional College, Southeast Regional College, and Northlands College. One other significant change in 1987 resulted in the amalgamation of four urban colleges in Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert with the technical institutes in those cities. These four urban institutions became known as campuses of the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST). Today, regional colleges play a vital role in providing adult and post-secondary training opportunities across Saskatchewan. They offer a wide range of programs and services including adult basic education, work-based training, and credit programs, some of which are brokered through SIAST and Saskatchewan's two universities. Increasingly, more people across Saskatchewan have access to a variety of educational programs without leaving their home communities.