Further Education Funding Council chief executive David Melville wrote to all colleges as the first step towards implementing the recommendations of last week's Kennedy report on widening participation in colleges.
Between 10 and 16 groups of colleges, training and enterprise councils and local authorities will get up to Pounds 100,000 each to fund 18-month pilot projects.
Schemes, which will include local Employment Service staff, will be expected to dovetail with the Government's regional Welfare to Work plans announced in last week's Budget. Ministers expect colleges, careers officers, TECs and councils to work together to promote a "new deal" for the unemployed.
Professor Melville said schemes would "identify under-represented groups, barriers to widening participation and groups which are underachieving locally and improve retention, achievement and progression rates for them".
Projects should also set up joint schemes to promote education in their regions. Funding chiefs hope organisations will pool resources in applying for cash from regeneration budgets or Europe.
Further cash may be available from 1999 if the schemes are successful.
Regional planning was a key theme in QC Helena Kennedy's report on widening participation in FE, published on Budget day.