Yes, it’s very often middle class families have it the most difficult (unless their kids are super smart etc., and also get accepted to the best schools with the most generous need based FA!
For example, HYPSM et al give students whose parent’s income is as much as $150k. Obviously not the full COA but enough to get the cost down to approx the COA of the students state universities. TBS, it depends also on what other assets the parents have.
Another example, last year I had a student of a single mom (a nurse) with an income of $75K. Student was valedictorian of her class, 35ACT, involved in a few EC’s (president of student body was one.)
She was very stubborn and several of the schools she applied to (Boston College, NYU, for example) I kept telling her we’re not going to give her enough to attend. But she applied to Dartmouth which would have given her grant in amount of COA and a Nescac school I had to convinced her to apply to as she had a better chance of acceptance than Dartmouth.
She got rejected at Dartmouth but thankfully got accepted at the NESCAC school. COA last yr was $70K. They gave her $65k/yr in grants.
Her packages from the other schools were ok (except NYU which sucks when it come to FA) They all had grants in them, but not enough $, and but they all had loans in the amount of $10-15k/yr - meaning either the mom would have to take out Parent Plus loans or co-sign.
We strongly recommend our students don’t take any loans, except the Federal Direct Subsidized loan, which is capped.
Many schools (but not the elite) also give generous merit aid, to try to attract very good students to improve their USNWR ranking. Some give quite a lot. My son got $30k/yr and $28/k a year in merit award from two schools he would have been happy to attend, but weren’t his first choice. Even his safety schools have him merit on avg of $15k/yr.
All this is harder if your student is avg (like B student) with anything under a 30ACT. Their state university is usually the most affordable option or 2 yes CC and then transfer to 4 yr school.
None of this is easy though and many parents simply cannot afford to save for their retirement and college for several kids.
My state (NY) now has a program that gives free tuition to every kid whose parents have incomes up to $125K for state Uni ans sone private schools that opted into the program. But that only covers tuition, not R&B. But with so many state schools almost everyone has one in commuter distance from where they live.