After more than four years of debate over his leadership, the president of Valley Forge Military Academy and College is stepping down by the end of the year, the school announced yesterday.

Charles A. "Tony" McGeorge, who became Valley Forge's first civilian president in July 2005, said yesterday that he was resigning to take a senior position with a consulting firm.

McGeorge and William Floyd, chairman of Valley Forge's board, met with staff yesterday to tell them that he was leaving.

"I thanked our wonderful staff," McGeorge said. "We had a hugfest."

McGeorge's leaving comes after many alumni - citing the school's worsening financial problems, high turnover of staff, and what they say is a decline in the institution's traditions and standards - have called for his ouster. His contract was to run through June.

In a joint telephone interview, McGeorge and Floyd denied reports that McGeorge had been forced out.

"You get an opportunity to go out at the top, and it is a good time," McGeorge said.

During McGeorge's tenure, the legislature named Valley Forge's coed junior college the official military college of Pennsylvania, and enrollment in that program increased. In the spring, McGeorge announced plans to build a $32 million academic facility that would allow the junior college to more than double its enrollment.

"We will always be grateful to Tony for the many great qualities he brought to Valley Forge, and for setting us on a course for an exciting future," Floyd, a 1963 graduate, said in a statement.

Floyd will serve as interim president while the board launches a national search for a successor.

Valley Forge was founded in 1928 as an all-male college-prep boarding school. The two-year college later became coed. Officials said 250 students from seventh grade through high school are enrolled at the academy, and 315 cadets are at the college.

Many Valley Forge alumni have been at odds with the school throughout McGeorge's term and have cut back on donations. They said his administration had undermined the school's principles, and they worried about the school's survival.

Valley Forge reported a deficit of $290,149 on its nonprofit tax filing for the year ending June 30, 2008. McGeorge's salary that year was $192,965.

In the spring, some alumni delivered petitions to the trustees calling for McGeorge's ouster. They also sent letters to Gov. Rendell, Attorney General Tom Corbett, and other state officials, alleging that McGeorge and the board were mismanaging private and state money.

In May, the school sued Valley Forge Old Guard Inc., a group of disgruntled alumni, alleging that the organization had infringed on the institution's copyrighted symbols and images on its Web site and literature. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court.

McGeorge is taking a post at Miller/Cook Associates, a consulting firm that handles enrollment campaigns primarily for private colleges and universities.

William F. Miller, a cofounder and president of the firm, based in Marco Island, Fla., said his company had worked on enrollment campaigns for Valley Forge for the last three years.

He said he received permission from Floyd about 10 days ago to talk to McGeorge about opening an office on the Main Line that will focus on working with Pennsylvania's 106 private schools. Miller said 64 percent of those schools are within 35 miles of the Radnor Hotel.

"We decided to do this now because in this economy, private academies are having as much of a survival challenge as private colleges," Miller said.

McGeorge, who will begin his new job Jan. 1, will become the company's fourth principal.

Before joining Valley Forge, he was a health and marketing executive.

Robert Alwine, a 1963 Valley Forge graduate who founded and oversees another independent alumni group, the 1,116-member Bronze Cadets, said he hoped the changes helped.

"I just hope that it will be good for the school," said Alwine, of Tallahassee, Fla.

Alastair G. Crosbie, a 1990 graduate and an Old Guard board member, said his organization was buoyed by news of McGeorge's departure.

"The alumni are happy for a change," he said. "It's a great school. Personally, I want it to survive."

Contact staff writer Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.