Wow. Thomas Frank namechecks Mission of Burma AND totally goes off on American Higher Ed. I don't agree with it all, but I agree with a lot of it and it's an essential read.
Here's one slice to get you started:
Paying $250 for a textbook is more like it nowadays; according to one economist, textbook prices have increased 812 percent over the past thirty-five years, outstripping not only inflation (by a mile) but every other commodity—home prices, health care—that we usually consider to be spiraling out of control.
The explanation is simple. The textbook publishers use every trick known to the marketing mind to obsolete their products year after year, thus closing off the possibility of second-hand sales. What’s more, textbook publishing is a highly concentrated industry—an oligopoly—which means they can drive prices pretty much as high as they feel like driving them. Meanwhile, the professors who assign the textbooks and who might do something about the problem don’t have to pay for them.
The charmingly naive American student is in fact a cash cow, and everyone has got a scheme for slicing off a porterhouse or two.