They are, as long as you know who’s providing it.

Among its other uses, the internet functions as a global library, a central repository for experiences and knowledge around the globe. The rise of e-learning is a natural extension of that function. Today, it’s even possible to attend school remotely from anywhere with an internet connection and continue your education all the way up to the graduate level. That’s opening up new opportunities for personal growth for people all around the world, but choosing to earn an online degree isn’t something to be undertaken lightly.

There’s still some conjecture in industry circles about the value of online degree programs and how they compare to traditional, in-person higher education institutions. The roots of the debate go all the way back to the early days of e-learning, but there are growing signs that online degree programs are gaining acceptance and will soon become the de facto standard in higher educational attainment. If you’re considering working towards a degree online, here’s what you need to know before you make a decision.

An Unfortunate Association

One of the biggest drawbacks of online degree programs is the perception that they lack the academic rigor of traditional, in-person programs. That perception traces back to a series of high-profile scandals involving a global ring of diploma mills, which offered bogus degrees to anyone who could afford their fee. Unfortunately, such schemes continue to be common to this day, hurting the reputations of the many other legitimate online degree programs, many of which are now run by well-known, respected universities around the globe. That has had the unfortunate effect of causing businesses and recruiters to be naturally skeptical of job candidates that list online degrees on their résumés.

Shaking the Stigma

The good news is that, as online learning has become more common, employers seem to be getting used to seeing candidates who have earned online degrees and are becoming more willing to rely on them as an indicator of the candidate’s level of knowledge in their chosen field. Recent statistical data does indicate, however, that not all online degree programs are viewed as the same by employers. In fact, holders of online degrees earned from for-profit online schools still receive 22% fewer callbacks than those that earned degrees from public institutions or brick-and-mortar, for-profit universities. That’s not a vast statistical difference, but it is something to keep in mind when considering working towards an online degree.

Making the Right Choice

The key takeaway here for individuals looking into online degrees as a means of improving their job prospects or to advance in an existing career is that they’re a great idea – as long as you choose the right program. That means conducting your due diligence to make sure that the online degree program that you’re considering is fully accredited and is being offered by a legitimate, known university. As long as you’re careful, you are likely to earn a useful degree while saving quite a bit of time and money. As you advance further, that can amount to a huge amount of savings. For example, earning an online MBA can cost around half of a comparable traditional program, so it’s more than worth taking your time to find a well-regarded program that suits your particular needs.

Onward and Upward

At this point, there are more reasons to turn to online degree programs than there are drawbacks, and that situation should only continue to improve as time goes on. Already, online degrees have begun to shed their unfortunate reputation and are becoming common enough that they can no longer be discounted by employers. That’s good news for anyone seeking to earn a new degree, so if you’ve been sitting on the fence and weren’t sure if an online degree would provide you with the kind of education that would pay real dividends, you should now be able to go forward into your educational future with no reservations.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.