This post kind of confuses me. Are you saying the prestigious schools are the only ones that test beyond regurgitation? If so then that is a large assumption. It seems the level of critical thinking would depend on alot of things, such as major. As an engineer, all I really do is think critically. That wouldn't be true for someone like a bio major.
Since you seem to care so much about background I'll give you mine. I am a biomedical engineer at UT austin with a 3.98. I could've gone to johns hopkins for undergrad but I felt I fit better at UT.
Maybe this is just me but I consider UT to be a good school in line with UCLA. Check out their pages on college board. Very similar student bodies, both state schools.
I would look at a UT-Austin student more favorably than one from say podunk university which is unranked. I would hope Texas schools make that distinction.