Six in ten students with children have thought about quitting their course, and one in ten feels isolated at university or college, the first UK-wide study of student parents reports.
Those polled by the National Union of Students spoke of facing a "minefield" of complex financial-support arrangements and told of their reliance on credit cards to paper over the cracks in the benefits and student-funding systems.
"The student finance available is a minefield ... I seem to get a different story every time I speak to someone," one student at Swansea Metropolitan University said.
The report, Meet the Parents, outlines the many barriers faced by student parents. These include clashes between course and parenting responsibilities that can leave them "at the mercy" of tutors. More than three quarters of those questioned said they struggled to join in with wider university life, and the study identifies a "chronic" lack of clear advice "at every stage" of the student-parent experience.
Of 2,167 student parents surveyed, just 14 per cent felt they had received sufficient information about childcare, and 18 per cent about financial entitlements, to have made an informed decision about studying as a parent.
The unclear and inconsistent relationship between benefits and student support meant that parents had to become "experts" about entitlements. Student parents often had to "sign on and off" with benefits agencies at different times of year. The transition, however, was rarely smooth. One in ten had experienced an over- or underpayment of benefits.
One student at the University of the Arts London said: "During the summer ... it took nearly a month to go back on benefits, and so I got into severe debt on my credit card and overdraft while waiting for benefits to come through."
Another set of problems arose over timetabling, holidays, deadlines and placements.
Half those surveyed had been late for, or had to miss, a class because of childcare problems, and one in five had to request an extension for the same reason.
Almost half said they received their timetable too late to make adequate childcare arrangements, and 39 per cent said they were unable to access learning resources at their institutions as much as they needed to.
"All too often ... teaching and learning in our institutions is still modelled around the needs of the young," the report says.
More than half of those surveyed said they often studied after 10pm, and selected "tired" when asked how they felt as a result of combining study with parenthood.
But overall, the vast majority - 75 per cent - felt that studying had been a positive experience for them and their family.
The NUS says all students should be entitled to childcare funding, and the report calls for an increase in the higher education childcare grant.