Speaking of student accessibility, apparently LabView has addressed some of these concerns. According to this:
LabView is the "Core language used to develop Mindstorms NXT software."
I want to offer my opinion on LabView from the point of view of an NI customer.
I came from chip-design background, so I had experiences with C, Verilog and many more design languages. My experience with LabView has been a blast, it was amazingly powerful and simple to use. One case in point, with LabView, I was able to write a program that can reliably communicate between two microcontrollers via CAN interface in one afternoon. I am not aware of any other development environment that can give me that fast of a development time. Not to mention that when I am stuck with any problem, I can call NI and have somebody in NI to help me out. Good software and support ain't cheap. I am a happy customer of LabView.
Paul has a point that many of NI's hardware are expensive. Part of the reason of the high hardware cost is that they are really reliable and capable. If you don't need those capabilities, there are some really inexpensive hardware (eg. $13 for Luminary Micro LM3S8962 uController) that LabView can run on.
There seems to be an increasing trend of moving towards python for the sort of thing previously done by Labview
Python has all sorts of interesting packages such as numpy and USB wrapper packages making it a very versatile workbench.
And it's all free....
LabView sucks. I don’t mean the product or business, but what sucks is the access to LabView to the small company, college classroom, average engineer, or hobbyist. When my college group looked into software for a robotics project, we considered LabView and several other options. LabView, even with student discounts, was just too expensive and the “basic package” just didn’t offer enough functionality without purchasing many confusing, high-dollar modules. We went with Microsoft’s VisualBasic and our project was a hit. Despite many of us loathing Microsoft, VB6 was available, cheap, easy to ramp-up into, and powerful. Fast-forward a decade, I still don’t use LabView because it still looks like an expensive product, again with many high-dollar add-ons, geared towards companies with deep-pockets and dedicated resources. Even though I’m a nobody engineer in the electronics industry and only influence six-figure budgets and a hundred or so other engineers and hobbyists, I have never recommended LabView because of my experience. Sure this is just my anecdote, but I suspect I’m not alone in having been put off by LabView. Luckily, these days with lots of computing power available, there are many graphical programming languages out there – many of which are free, or free-to-try – and many are focused on I/O functionality and DSP.