LabVIEW can be free as long as you use the evaluation level given to anyone wanting to try the software out for free. National Instruments is very generous with this feature and allow students extra benefits. With the small investment in an Arduino Uno, you can have a full instrument measurement package to innovate with.
The search keywords "LabVIEW Arduino" had a huge breakout in early 2011 when the LIFA patch was introduced. It's been on a steady rise ever since. Popularity is growing each year.