New Jersey's governor on Tuesday proposed an austere budget for higher education (and most everything else), recommending a cut of about 15 percent in operating funds and a reduction of nearly 5 percent in financial aid for students. But the most stunning aspect of the governor's 2011 budget plan for public college officials was its proposal (see page 33 ) to strip Thomas Edison State College of $5.6 million in state funds and merge the online education institution into Rutgers University. The governor's budget plan bills the merger as a logical way to bring Rutgers's brand of classroom-based learning to Trenton, which is home to Thomas Edison, while "leveraging the two institutions' distance learning programming." Under the merger, Rutgers would also take over the State Museum and Library that Thomas Edison now oversees, for a total savings of $8.4 million. Public college officials, though, note that Trenton already has a classroom-based public institution, the College of New Jersey, and that enormous, research-oriented Rutgers would make an unlikely and discordant overseer of Thomas Edison's unusual brand of personalized education for adult students and overseas military personnel. Thomas Edison officials reportedly did not learn about the proposed merger until early Tuesday, and could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.