It was Wales' only long-term, mature students education college and was established in 1927 by Thomas Jones (T. J.), Cabinet Secretary to both David Lloyd George and Stanley Baldwin, to continue the work of Workers' Educational Association in a residential environment. It has become well known as a "second chance" college, often for people who, for economic or social reasons, never had a first chance.
It always had a close association with the WEA and merged with WEA (North Wales) in 2001 to become Coleg Harlech Workers' Educational Association (North Wales), a registered charity.
Its stated aims were: "To enable adults to enhance their life chances and employability by increasing their capacity for learning through the provision of high quality education in residential and community settings, with a due regard to the Welsh language and culture."
Courses that were offered at Coleg Harlech until December 2013 included a full-time 9 month Bangor University Foundation Certificate in Music Technology, Multimedia, Art and Design, Social Studies including a Pathway to Nursing. These courses are no longer being offered.
The other long-term, mature students colleges in the UK are Ruskin College at Oxford; Northern College at Barnsley; Hillcroft College in Surbiton; Fircroft College at Birmingham; and Newbattle Abbey College in Midlothian, Scotland.
- P. Stead, Coleg Harlech: The First Fifty Years, ISBN 978-0-7083-0657-4
- E. White, Thomas Jones: Founder of Coleg Harlech, ISBN 0-901833-84-3